Updated: Feb 15
The Five Reiki Principles are something Reiki practitioners meditate on every day - they are a part of our daily ritual. I appreciate each in its own way, but the one I really connect with is “Just for today, I will be grateful.” Instantly, with that simple intention, I am. I feel a warmth fill my heart space every time I say it to myself. It’s a pretty beautiful and uplifting sensation.
Many of us were raised in a world that was always looking for the next best thing - one that was highly competitive in an “American dream” sort of way. It can leave one feeling like they are defined by the things they own or their job title, often overlooking the simple pleasures or most important moments that happen in their daily lives.
Things have only been compounded by the ever pervasive and addictive addition of social media. Now, we seemingly have more evidence of everyone living a better life than us. Intellectually, we know it isn’t true, but the aspirational images can make it harder to look around your own life and feel like it is enough.
How do we break the cycle? While smashing our phones would be a great start, I’m not here to recommend destruction. Keep your superficial pleasures! They can have a place in your world if you want them there. Another way to stop the constant nagging in your head that you aren’t enough, or your partner is annoying or the stress is going to break you, is to change those thought patterns.
We have the ability to reprogram our brains. By releasing the instinct to complain about what others have and you want, you can focus on what you do have. That will form new neural pathways that, in turn, bring you joy and other benefits.
Even better? A 2016 study found that the more you express appreciation, the more the psychological benefits increase over time.
REASONS TO CULTIVATE A LIFE OF GRATITUDE:
Increased Contentment - People often focus on wanting to feel happier, but I prefer contentment. It means we have enough. We aren’t searching for more and better at every turn.
Stress Reduction - One study showed significant increases in positivity with less aggression, anxiety, burnout and stress. They found a 23% reduction in cortisol and 100% increase in DHEA/DHEAS levels. Beyond the scientific evidence, though, all you have to do is take ten minutes to escape your office by going for a walk and feeling the sun on your face to know that it releases stress and calms you down.
Self-Esteem Booster - When you appreciate what you see around you, you appreciate your life more, you more. If you are grateful for who and what surround you, you tend to be less competitive with others because you don’t want what they have. This decrease in social comparison does wonders for self-esteem.
Improves Sleep - A 2009 study published by Journal of Psychosomatic Research, showed not only an improvement in quality of sleep but also increased hours. Everyone needs that.
Improves Relationships - Everyone wants to be appreciated, right? When you acknowledge a simple gesture made by your partner, family or friends, they feel seen and heard. Conversely, doing small acts of kindness sure can go a long way to help your loved ones feel cared for.
WAYS TO BRING GRATITUDE TO YOUR LIFE:
Practice with Family - This is my favorite one as it incorporates my daughter. She can get caught up in what she doesn’t have and I hope I’m helping her forge some positive neural pathways by doing this. At dinner, we each say three things that we are grateful for today. She often says the same ones and it’s inevitable that one of them is always ‘lunch’, but every once in a while a really thoughtful one comes out and I know it’s worth it. We don't do it nightly, but I try to bring it up consistently - especially when the complaining is getting out of hand.
Meditation - I mean, this was obviously going to be on the list, right?! As I tell my clients, simply starting with a 2 minute meditation in the morning can really go a long way to improving your mood and calming your thoughts. Use that short period of time to clear your mind and then reflect on something you appreciate in your life. Sit with the feeling that arises when you think of that one thing. When you recall it throughout the day, it can bring calm and maybe a smile when you really need it.
One Simple Thought - Every morning upon awakening and every night after you crawl into bed, think of one thing for which you are grateful. It can be as simple as a new bloom on your hibiscus tree to a loving thought about your partner. It is just about taking the time at the start and end of your day, which helps to train the brain to be more appreciative.
Visual Cues - I love this one and utilize is daily. I will write a message to myself on my bathroom mirror and leave it up for a few weeks. You can also set photos, drawings or thank you notes around personal spaces so you can see them and be reminded of how fortunate you are and smile. I have an 8 foot long bulletin board in my studio almost entirely filled with images or notes that are there solely to make me feel good or inspired. Clearly, I strongly recommend this method!
Journal - I don’t like to tell people to journal because it feels a bit cringe-inducing, but it is a valid form of fostering gratitude and studies have proven that it works. If journaling comes naturally to you, this would be a great way to go. Doing this after meditation can be very inspiring and thought provoking.
Volunteer - Volunteering may increase your feeling of self-worth, but more importantly it will give you a healthy dose of perspective by showing you sides of society that don’t come up while scrolling through Instagram. Doing things for others also just feels good.