The Gift Of Gratitude
Does being grateful take work? Is gratitude a learnt reflex?
Honestly, I didn’t think so. I thought being thankful was just an instinctive reaction to something
good happening to you.
But, turns out being thankful is something you can learn, and it can change your life.
In India we don’t have an attitude of Gratitude. Part of it stems from our belief that we need not give
thanks to near and dear ones, and by thanking someone you are indirectly implying that you are
indebted to them. If you thank someone you might have heard words like “ Arey Arey hame
dhanyawad kehke, hume Sharminda na kare “ Don’t embarrass me by thanking me. Or the “ Is mein
thankyou kaisi ji? Ye to Hamara farz tha.” This was my duty, no need to thank me.
And over time we start to believe in these humble platitudes. We start to believe that we are
ENTITLED to people’s kindness, that by thanking them, we might actually be embarrassing them. And
so, we just lose the ability to show gratitude, and over time even feel gratitude.
But, in celebration of Thanksgiving (celebrated in multiple cultures around the world, but most
popularly by Canada on the second Monday of October, and on the fourth Thursday of November in
USA) I decided to maintain a Gratitude Journal from the Canadian thanksgiving to USA thanksgiving.
So from 14 October , to 28 November 2019.
One of the first exercises was to list some of my favourite colours I was thankful for. How does one
begin by being thankful for colours ?! And so I began , with a good dose of scepticism, as I listed ‘
green grass’ and pink sunsets , in my list, but as I kept going, I got more specific , like Maybelline
lipstick shade in Toasted Brown, or the shade of Rani pink on my Benarasi sari.
With time I got better at listing gratitude for things I never knew I felt so much love and joy for;
scents ( coffee and cinnamon sugar rolls ), snacks ( Haldirams Nimbu Masala), everyday moments (
sitting in my balcony watching my plants grow).
As I continued with my gratitude exercises, I realised that I was more attentive to my surroundings.
Who knew I might someday have to write a gratitude journal entry on – 5 things I am grateful for on
the way to dropping my son to school. like ; finding that miraculous parking in front of the gate,
meeting a favourite parent and catching up for a few minutes, watching the older kids practicing
their march past, a goodbye hug from my son, watching my son walking into a class and immediately
engulfed by his gang of boisterous friends.
But, apart from being more attentive to my surroundings, I realised I enjoyed spending time with
myself, waiting for the next surprising revelation that would release a pocket of happiness. Being
alone did not mean wallowing in loneliness, or spiralling into anxiety over to-do lists, or stressing
over every mundane irritation that living entails. And , it’s not to say that irritations, and anxieties of
everyday living did not bother me anymore, but I realised that I stopped wallowing in that feeling of
irritation, being grateful allowed me to move on to other things, that were – if not absolutely joyous,
were at least less irritating than the trigger .
Being grateful is not merely saying thanks, I realised. Earlier when I complained about my job or my
husband to my mother- she would reply with – be grateful you have a job, or with a, be grateful he is
your husband. That never worked; in fact it made me resent my work and my husband more.
What you need to do is – accept your feelings of resentment and complaint, give your feelings the
validity they deserve. Go through the whole “ this sucks !” feeling, and then remove yourself from
the situation, and start to list specific things you like about your job – the food in the cafeteria is
good, I have flexible work hours, the light on my desk is great, I get a good view of the garden from
the foyer. And make a similar list of specific things about the husband.
Gratitude is in the details. The more specific you are about what brings you joy, the more acute and
real your feelings of joy will be.
Science says that Gratitude actually changes the synapses in your brain – a term called
neuroplasticity. And this happens in pleasure and memory centers such as the hippocampus. And
regular repetition, by doing gratitude exercises can lead to changes in mood, thoughts, and finally
behaviour. Jane Ransom in her Ted talk on 3 keys of gratitude to unlock your happiest life speaks of
three E’s . and these are , first to Emote – it’s not enough to just think of things you are grateful for,
you must feel it, and say it out loud, or write about it, or sing and dance to it (TED speakers words
not mine).The second E is Extend – where you draw others into your grateful circle, where you begin
to build a community which you are grateful for. And the last E is Exercise- and that is that gratitude
takes practice, practice listing three things you are grateful for everyday.
And How do you express this gratitude? Another helpful youtube video gives 4 A’s as guidleines.
Apreciate things that you have, Approve of jobs well done by people in your daily life, Admire people
and things for their qualities, and pay Attention to things, people and life in general.
The law of Attraction, says that the more you are grateful, the more things you will have in life to be
grateful for. If you are grateful for the gracious service at a restaurant, you more often will find
generous helpers around you. And that makes sense, that people like to be appreciated, and when
you show gratitude, people around you will continue to do good things to you and for you, to earn
your appreciation. But, the law of attraction goes also beyond the realm of the obvious, and says
that the universe will conspire to keep you happy and grateful. Things that are not easily explained
by science and circumstances will happen, and from my own experience in the past month and more
of gratitude journaling, I have seen that happen.
Joy begets joy. And being grateful brings joy.
Each year since the 2019 thanksgiving month, I bring forth a 30 day Gratitude challenge in November. I share my prompts on social media, I provide support to others to find the joy, I share my own takeaways. This year too in 2022, I wrote gratitude posts each day around themes as varied as comfort, kindness, joy, and inspiration.
(Being grateful is a process, it takes active involvement and at many times is a struggle to practice.
Gratitude is a muscle that needs to be stretched and flexed on a daily basis, so that it can be
brought to the fore, when things look particularly bleak and boring. Being grateful is not easy, but
it’s a lesson worth learning.)