The practice of gratitude

Today is not just a day for stuffing our faces with food, but a day filled with gratitude. It is a time for us to offer our thanks to those close to us.

This is my family’s first Thanksgiving without my grandmother and sister. My grandmother passed away in June and my sister and her husband moved to Singapore in September. These absences at our Thanksgiving table remind me that anything can change at any moment in life, and that I have no other choice but to be grateful for everything that I have right now. Sutra I.23 in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is Isvara pranidhanat va  — “through complete and total surrender to a higher power”. This is one of nine recommended ways to steady the mind and free the self from suffering in the face of obstacles — or what may look like obstacles to you.

Isvara pranidhana
is the practice of trusting the order of the universe and not trying to deny your circumstances. It is not a blind acceptance that everything will work out for the best, but a realization that none of us are free from illness, injury, or death. It is a recognition that the order in the world may be beyond our understanding, and we may not ever be in a position to mold that order to our demands and desires. A peace is found in that recognition — our destinies may be out of our control, but that also means that however desperate or sad we find ourselves to be in one moment, we have no reason to believe that desperation or sadness will continue indefinitely into the future. Happiness and peace find us more easily than we find them.

Yoga chitta vritti nirodha
, Sutra I.2 — “yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind”. Through the practice of controlling our thoughts we make it more likely that peace and happiness find us. By controlling our thoughts, we can use our mind to create the reality around us. As a well known Sanskrit saying goes: “As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.” If you believe you are bound, then you are bound. If you believe you are liberated, than you are liberated. What you think is what you manifest in your life. By weaving gratitude and positive thoughts into your Thanksgiving celebration, you help promote a liberated mindset throughout your daily life. It’s not about your current circumstances; acknowledge those circumstances as they are, and then see if you can change your perspective on them. Are you feeling bound or liberated at this moment?

There was recently an article in the Wall Street Journal, Thank you. No, thank you.’: Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers Are Gobbled Up. The article highlighted that gratitude may help your mental and physical health. Adults who are regularly grateful are more optimistic, less envious and depressed, have fewer physical complaints, and exercise more. Children who are often grateful tend to have better grades, more satisfaction in their lives, and are less materialistic. Yoga is the practice of controlling the mind and altering habitual thought patterns or samskaras. Samskaras are our personal tendencies — the mental and emotional patterns we are born with. These samskaras can be positive or negative. In Western Psychology these samskaras are similar to cognitive distortions. A negative cognitive distortion is a habitual or automatic thought pattern that can cause us to feel overwhelmed and terrified even when it is not warranted. Researchers are finding that practicing gratitude can change our moods and alter our habitual patterns, causing us to be more optimistic and less depressed.

Before you dig into your big turkey or tempe dinner take 10-30 minutes to reflect on a few questions:

What you are grateful for? (Try to come up with 5 things!)
Who in your life could you thank more often?
What experiences in your life are you grateful for?
What is different today than it was a year ago that you’re thankful for?

Try writing these questions and answers down and when you reach your family or friend’s home for the big meal take a moment to say one of the things or people you are grateful for out loud. Find gratitude in the food that is in front of you and savor each bite – don’t rush through it!

Take this holiday to start or build on a practice of gratitude. Allow yourself to see all of the light that is already within your life.

Have a happy, gratitude-filled holiday!