Gopi Kallayil – a high level businessman with Google marketing – said to Yoga Journal (November 2011, page 76), “I perform a gratitude practice on my drive to work every day. I count 10 things that I’m grateful for.” Ten things every day. I wonder, how many people might find that difficult? Do they lack gratitude? Do they lack the ability to see good things, or are they simply not in the habit? Kallayil calls it a “practice.” I believe, like any discipline, this is exactly what gratitude is.
When I was a little girl, my mom came upstairs to say “goodnight” every evening. She would stand in the hallway between our rooms, and lead us in our bedtime prayers: Now I lay me down to sleep…. She had her own version of the classic prayer: at the end, we prayed for blessings for our loved ones. God bless Mommy and Daddy… siblings, extended family, friends, neighbors; each night we prayed for them all. My favorite part was the very end: what were we grateful for? Each night we got to think of something new. I would go through the day wondering what I would say I was grateful for that night. It was fun to find something new. After all, of course I was grateful for the important things like health, family, security, love. But the little things – the unusual things – this was their time to shine! I particularly remember three of mine – all of which I had seen on Sesame Street in a “how is it made” feature: Crayons, peanut butter and saxophones. I can still see the images in my head, and the sax was my instrument of choice in junior high band.
Every day I find myself more and more grateful for my upbringing. Because I was raised to be thankful, I learned how to step outside my circumstances to see my good fortune. In other words, to be aware of your blessings, you must be aware of the plight of others. While someone may have had it better than me, there were so many that were suffering more than I could fathom or even know. I learned to wish them an improved situation while simultaneously recognizing my own blessings. This was not simply a process of compare and contrast. There were difficult times in my childhood – like there are for all of us – and the ritual of nightly gratitude taught me to tune into the silver lining, to recognize the positive moments in the day, to rely on hope of the future, to find joy in the little things. It was okay to feel angry or sad about our situations from time to time (indeed, necessary), but we also worked to see our blessings because they were what carried us through the difficult times.
I suggest we find space in our lives like Gopi Kallayil does and create for ourselves a gratitude practice. After a week of this effort, how will it change our perspectives? How will it improve our lives? Let me know your experience here!