Gratitude doesn’t require you to belong to any specific religion or philosophy, and it cuts across all boundaries of politics and nationality. All that is required is for you to keep your eyes, ears, and heart receptive to even the little ordinary joys around you.
Feeling deep gratitude is wonderfully addictive; the more we do it, the more we want to do it, and so we begin looking even more deeply to reflect on things for which we’re grateful.
I first learned about the amazing power of gratitude during a time when my financial situation was quite bleak, and I decided that I needed to be focusing on something else besides my empty bank account. I invented a new kind of accounting system, where I recorded all the things for which I was grateful in an old accounting ledger as a way to recognize that prosperity and abundance come in many forms.
It was amazing how prosperous I felt as my daily “balance” of blessings kept getting bigger and bigger. Sure enough, before long, my outward financial picture started changing as well. I believed in this system so much that I created an online program to inspire others to try it, too, called “Accounting Your Blessings.”
This process made me realize that wealth is truly perception, and by simply analyzing prosperity through a different measurement system — through gratitude — we can make remarkable changes.
Here are some positive guidelines for creating a gratitude practice:
1. Make it consistent. While any kind of gratitude is good, I’ve noticed that the wonderful effects of gratitude really occur when we engage in a practice of gratitude that is regular and consistent. A specific structure that is easily replicable from day to day makes it easier to experience gratitude as a pillar in your life.
For example, think about the time of day that works best, and a particular way in which you can express your gratitude easily and regularly. You might experiment and try a few different things until you find the alternative that seems the most natural.
2. Make it customized. I encourage a gratitude practice because gratitude works best when we do it rather than just think about it. A gratitude practice is truly motivating when we customize it to our interests and passions.
For example, creative individuals will be much more engaged when they are writing or drawing about their blessings rather than just halfheartedly thinking about them. A runner may have more success incorporating a gratitude meditation into her jogging time than she would by just entering her thoughts in a daily journal.
Think of simple, doable activities that you really enjoy, and play with incorporating them into a regular gratitude practice. This is the ultimate win-win, because then you are making both gratitude and your favorite activities part of your daily life, blending them in a beautiful synergy.
3. Make it conducive. Your practice needs to fit in with your real life, so be realistic about what you can and cannot do, and think of ways for your practice to fit in with the nooks and crannies of what your life looks like.
For example, if you don’t have a lot of time to yourself because you are parenting young children, think of ways in which you might include them in your gratitude routine, so that you are spending high-quality time with them while also actively engaging in your gratitude practice. Or, if you have a long commute, perhaps you could use a handheld device to record a verbal list of your blessings while on the road.
4. Make it challenging. Just as a physical exercise routine needs to be changed up every now and then to challenge new muscle groups, we also need to regularly tweak our gratitude practice to keep it fresh and relevant.
Your gratitude practice ought to be comfortable, easy, and doable — but not to the point that it becomes stale, mechanical, or routinized. Expressing your gratitude in new ways also opens you up to having new eyes with which you can see all kinds of new blessings that you may not have noticed before.
A gratitude practice won’t work if it comes from a place of pressure, guilt, or overwhelm. The last thing a busy person needs is to think of gratitude as another “should” on her list. Rather than seeing your gratitude practice as “something else to do,” I invite you to think of it as something that can expand your sense of time.
Gratitude bridges the entire time continuum, from the past through the present into the future. Gratitude helps us to remember what matters most, as we make the present memorable, casting a light of hopeful expectation for what is to come.
In our busy day-to-day lives, we tend to focus on the big events in time rather than the quiet, moment-to-moment passages. We look toward deadlines, departures and arrivals, paydays, launch dates, and appointments, all the while forgetting that the slowly ticking clock is part of the entire time continuum.
Gratitude helps us to unify the loud hourly clock chime with the soft, barely perceptible second-hand tick. It allows us to adjust our temporal depth perception, not only in how deeply we see time but also in how deeply it affects us. Every moment contains a gift, if we turn our attention to see it.
Here is one way I can describe the first few months of last year:
Those months were very difficult. The day after my husband had to leave to take care of his dying mother early in January, I broke my foot. A few weeks later, I had foot surgery, and shortly after that, Kai got very sick with the flu, an ear infection, and eventually bronchitis. Then the entire city came to a virtual standstill because of severe ice storms.
To top it off, while still recovering from my foot surgery, I got sick, and then sicker, and I was taken to the ER after an abnormal EKG, and it turned out that I also had dehydration and pneumonia, which I ended up battling for months afterward...
Here is another perfectly accurate way I could describe those same months:
• On yet another snowy day, little Kai, staring out the window, burst into the most joyous smile and said, “I think it’s the best snow I ever, ever saw!” which instantly melted away our snowy worries.
• I was delighted to get to choose my own color for my foot’s cast. I chose the brightest shade of orange, and it made me so happy. It might just have been the radiating neon glow, but it seemed to make everyone else lighten up a bit, too, even strangers.
• While I was having a bad coughing fit, Kai, then two years old, said to me, “Okay, take a good breath, Mommy,” and his adorable compassion was as sweet as oxygen.
• My health needs prompted some major reorganization at work, which resulted in valuable, sustainable changes made for the better.
• On Valentine’s Day, my sweet husband sang me a love song, and I felt the same flutter I had felt on Valentine’s Day over a decade earlier.
• I made eye contact with a little bird who skipped on my windowsill, just to give me a little hop of hope.
• My friend Karen sent me a bouquet of sunflowers, “just because,” without even knowing everything that had been going on with me, as I hadn’t done a good job of keeping in touch.
We all get to choose what we remember about any swatch of time. Life certainly isn’t always easy, but we can remember Kai’s words to “take a good breath” and see the whole picture, the infinity of tiny ecstasies, as we live our lives, oxygenated by the little miracles everywhere around us.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library. ©2012 by Marney K. Makridakis
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life
by Marney K. Makridakis.
Marney K. Makridakis is the author of Creating Time. She founded the Artella online community for creators of all kinds and the print magazine Artella. A popular speaker and workshop leader, she created the ARTbundance approach of self-discovery through art. Visit her online at www.artellaland.com.
Watch a video: Marney Makridakis on Creating Time