Several years ago, I took part in my first day-long silent retreat, which was part of an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course. Unsure of what to expect, I decided to go in with my eyes and mind wide open. This meant letting go of any judgments, comparisons or evaluations that typically come with new experiences. Part of this day was spent outdoors, exploring our surroundings (which, ironically, included a large parking lot along with some incredible eucalyptus trees!)
The instructions were simple – just notice what you see, hear and feel. Keep in mind this was a *silent* retreat, so we weren’t sharing our observations with others; instead, we could “be alone with our experience.” I will never forget the moment I stood and really noticed the beauty of the trees around me. They were magnificent – I was completely in awe!
The setting felt like a beautiful forest with leaves everywhere, a minty smell in the air and colorful tree trunks that seemed to go on for miles. It was in that very moment, I burst into tears. I found myself overwhelmed with thoughts about how much I had missed over the years; so much beauty (among other things) that I had taken for granted, mainly because I was “too busy.”
That day, I decided it was time for me to slow down and show up better. Like many of us, I was living my life on auto-pilot – hurrying from one thing to the next, completely stressing in the process, trying to do it all and get it all ” just right,” (some might even say “perfect”). What I didn’t realize at the time was the effect my frantic attitude of, “Sorry I don’t have time for that, hurry up, are you kidding me?, we need to go NOW,” was having on those around me, especially, my two kids!
The thing is, slowing down, even just 5%, makes us better parents, friends, spouses, co-workers…you name it. I could go on and on about the incredible benefits of mindfulness, but for now, I will just say that slowing down and becoming mindful helps us become more grateful. The more open and aware we are to what is around us, the more we find to be grateful for! The best part? Research shows that practicing and expressing gratitude actually makes us happier! Sign me up!
With this “attitude of gratitude” in mind, I wanted to offer 3 simple ways to make gratitude a daily practice:
1. Keep a gratitude journal – Aim to record 3-5 things, little or big, you are grateful for daily. The simple act of writing it down has been shown to dramatically improve our physical and emotional well-being.
2. Take time to express your gratitude to others, especially to those who help and support you – Go beyond “thank you” by letting the person know what they did or do that you are grateful for, acknowledge the effort it took on their part and specifically how it was helpful to you.
3. Understand that gratitude is a choice – No matter how difficult things may be, there is always something to be grateful for. Choose to be on the lookout.