Gratitude is totally on trend.
There are gratitude journals, gratitude meditations, even a Cafe Gratitude (bet you can’t figure out it’s in California). And everyone agrees that in order to reap the benefits of gratitude, which include, among other things, increased happiness, better mental and physical health, improved relationships, stronger fingernails, glossier hair… OK, I’m getting carried away, but to reap the benefits, you must cultivate a specific gratitude practice.
What constitutes a gratitude practice?
You must a) notice the good in your life, and b) actively thank someone, or Someone, for it. To enhance your gratitude practice, the noticing and the thanking are both done via specific actions, and not just in your head.
Thing is, most of us are way quicker to notice what’s broken than what’s fixed. This may be programmed within us biologically to help us stay safe and well: if I have an ache or pain, if I think I may hear an intruder, if I sense rain is coming, I will take the precautions necessary to keep myself and my loved ones safe.
But spiritually and psychologically, this is bad for us, because we become hyper-aware of the squeaky wheel that needs the grease, and much more dimly aware of all the things in our lives that are working, that are beautiful, that are humming along like clockwork with no glitches. Glitchless is quiet. You don’t notice it. You don’t feel it until it’s gone.
A few years ago, my mother had surgery on her knee. I drove to New York with my daughter to be with her as she recovered. We stayed in a “Bikur Cholim” house — a facility in Manhattan that’s been purchased by a Jewish organization that services families with illness. Our room was three flights up, and, after spending all day with my mother and her incapacitated knee, I was acutely aware of how beautifully and perfectly my own knee functioned as I navigated the steps each day. “Why have I never noticed my amazingly functional knees before?” I wondered.
If anything, we should be far more grateful for all the things that work without a hitch. Dr. David Lieberman argues in his book, “If God Were Your Therapist,” that there’s a directly proportional relationship between the gratitude we naturally feel for things, and the extent to which that thing is in danger.
For instance, if we’ve, God forbid, been in an accident, and can’t walk for a year, we will feel immeasurably grateful to be able to walk again. It will be a long time before we take walking for granted. If the accident was averted at the last second, we’ll feel some residual gratitude. And if we were never in an accident at all, the chances are pretty good that we won’t even give our ability to walk a second thought.
If anything, Dr. Lieberman says, it should be the opposite. How grateful we should feel for never having been in an accident at all. To have avoided the pain, the fright, the hospital stay, the long hours of therapy, should fill us with joy. But it doesn’t, because we are wired to notice the bad and not the good.
So it’s on us humans to overcome that natural tendency, by creating a gratitude practice that actively notices the good. Notice the good, and attribute that good to the one (or the One) who bestowed it on you. You will come to realize that your life is filled with blessings, that so many things are working perfectly.
My gratitude practice includes a prayer. Each day, I say Psalm 100 eight times. It’s called the “thanksgiving prayer.” It’s really short, only five sentences. Each time I say it, I hold one family member in mind, meditating on all the wonderful things about this person and all the things that are working in their lives and in our relationship. Each time I am filled with a powerful sense of well-being. Each time I am buoyed by the joy of my many blessings. And each time I wonder why gratitude isn’t more popular.
I even think my nails are getting stronger…