Searching for Authentic Gratitude

Nov 08, 2023


It might surprise you to know that for a long time, I struggled to find an authentic way to practice gratitude. By “authentic”, I mean a form of gratitude rooted in reality, which doesn’t ignore or deny life’s hardships or attempt to minimize the pain we might be experiencing.

To be honest, considering everything happening in the world, I questioned whether this was even possible.

Nonetheless, I was determined to find a genuine approach to cultivating gratitude because of its well-documented benefits for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

One reason gratitude can be challenging to experience is that human beings are naturally predisposed to focus on what’s wrong. Evolution has hardwired our nervous systems to be on the alert for potential threats and dangers as a protective mechanism.

To counteract this negativity bias—our tendency to focus on negative events more strongly than positive ones—we have to make a conscious effort to focus on the positive. For example, I think of Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful invitation to practice gratitude for your non-toothache. It’s easy to overlook what’s going right.

Given this, it’s helpful to consider that in the context of yoga philosophy, gratitude can be seen as a form of pratipaksha bhavana. This is the practice prescribed in the Classical Yoga tradition of responding to negative thoughts by cultivating their positive counterparts.

The shift came for me in seeing authentic gratitude as an active practice, a response and a mindset that we can, and need, to cultivate to truly experience. And, that it’s possible to do this regardless of what’s going on in our lives.

It doesn’t mean feeling happy when bad things happen or dismissing negative emotions. Instead, it involves making a deliberate effort to consciously appreciate what we feel genuinely thankful for in any given moment.

As I’ve practiced applying this, I’ve found that there is always something to be grateful for. It could be something as simple as my breath, the trees in my front yard, the warm socks I’m wearing, the music I’m listening to, or the salad I had for lunch. There’s always something, and no matter how trivial it seems, it always feels heartening and uplifting.

When you approach gratitude as a practice, you see that you needn’t wait for good things to happen to feel thankful. Gratefulness becomes an outlook you bring to your life.

Gratitude nurtures your connection to life and, as such, can be an edifying force that bolsters you to meet life’s challenges with greater resilience.

Over time, you might find, as I have, that the practice of conscious appreciation for what you are thankful for is an empowering stance that fosters genuine contentment and well-being.

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