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actively practicing gratitude: a practice for peace and happiness

For the last few years, I’ve been actively practicing gratitude as a way to cultivate more peace and overall happiness in my life. So, you’re probably wondering what that actually means. 

Many days it means writing three things I am thankful for in my journal. Today, it was warm pozole soup that’s helping me ward off a cold, a text from my friend Adam checking on me, and an invitation to a mindfulness retreat in Jamaica. 

Most days it means taking a pause before I eat, to savor my meal. I usually take a moment to be grateful for whatever I am eating — say a salad — and the person I am eating with, if I’m not alone.

And sometimes it means remembering to stop in the middle of a busy day to enjoy the moment at hand. Most recently that has been: a gorgeous pink sunset on a humid, summer night, a yoga class, and a conversation with my friend Ray — over lunch and a walk on the High Line in Manhattan. 

The hardest part is feeling grateful when I’m disappointed, or things just aren’t going my way. Or when I’m afraid. Once fear takes hold, it’s easy to forget all the wonderful things that are going right, and the amazing people I know.

Last night, I picked my Mom up from the hospital where she had been for the last week. During those days and nights, I worried almost non-stop. I feared her 103 fever might not ever break and wondered if she would ever get better. That’s when I know I need to double up on my gratitude practice and take time for metta. 

One of my favorite tools for cultivating gratitude is the Buddhist loving kindness practice. I first started doing metta when I was living as a volunteer at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts. Before we would clean the guest rooms, and make the beds, our group of volunteers would start each day with a moment of silent prayer. 

Today, instead of silent prayer, I do metta each time before I eat. One of the teachers at Kripalu, Maria Sirois, Psy.D., says pairing it with another ritual — like eating or before you go to bed — makes it easier to remember. 

For me, metta is another way to express my gratitude for individual people in my life, like my Mom, the community at large, and even myself. The final part of metta practice is to send love to yourself — which is something most of us overlook. 

To practice, I put my hands together in prayer position, close my eyes, and take a deep breath.  If you would like to try — you can do the same and think of a someone who has been kind to you  — or you want to send good wishes. You can say the following to yourself, or out loud.

May you be safe (and free from danger) 

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease 

Now, think of a “neutral person,” someone you know but don’t feel strong negative or positive thoughts about -- this could be the guy at the supermarket checkout counter, someone at work or a receptionist at a doctor’s appointment -- and say:

May you be safe (and free from danger) 

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease 

Then, in your mind think of a person you have negative feelings for or someone who is difficult. Take a moment to be with that person in your mind and then say:

May you be safe (and free from danger) 

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you live with ease  

Finally, turn your hands inward, if they are still in prayer position, toward yourself, and say:

May I be safe (and free from danger) 

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I live with ease  

It takes just a few moments, but when paired with deep breathing, I’ve found it can really help me re-center my thoughts and remember how lucky I am. And yes, my Mom did end up fighting off the infection and now is happily at home watching her favorite TV  channel, CNBC. 

 

About Jennifer

jennifermattson

Jennifer Mattson writes about mindfulness, wellness, yoga, healthy living. She writes the Psychology Today The Wellness List   column and teaches creative writing workshops at New York University and across the countryShe started her career as a stringer in Budapest for USA Today, and her writing and reporting have since appeared in The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, Yoga International, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, among others. She spent more than six years as a producer for CNN and also worked on the foreign desk at CBS News. For radio, where she was a producer at NPR’s “The Connection” and senior editor at NPR’s “Tell Me More.” You can find more of her writing on her website:  www.jennifersmattson.com or see her upcoming writing classes here: http://jennifersmattson.com/workshops/

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