Movement Nine: Gratitude
A beautiful sunset, a melody, the smell of flowers, a gentle breeze ruffling your hair – the universe is full of beauty and goodness. However, as we go about our lives it can be easy to miss the beauty as we focus on the struggles and difficulties. Religious and spiritual traditions from around the world, and now science too, tell us that we should pause and take time for gratitude first. New studies are showing that doing so actually rewires our brains to experience more beauty and goodness – the act of noticing it helps us see more of it. No matter how much struggle or tragedy there is in this world, as long as there is life there will also be beauty. Let us root ourselves in gratitude for this gift.
“Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” – Terry Tempest Williams
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” – The Buddha
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” – Brene Brown
“‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” – Alice Walker
Exercise One: Greet Each Day
In the book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes her father’s practice of pouring some coffee out on the earth to greet each day and express gratitude. This type of practice, taking some time first thing in the day to express simple gratitude for the gift of life and another day, can root you in those feelings for the rest of your day. Try finding a way to greet the day that is right for you. Perhaps a sun salutation, a prayer, reciting a poem, or simply going to a window and bowing to the world with reverence. Try it for a week and see how it feels.
Exercise Two: A Gratitude Journal
It’s become a bit of a cliché, but keeping a gratitude journal really can change your outlook on life. Any old journal will do, and there’s no one right way to do it. The important thing is to take a little time at the end of the day to reflect on what you’re grateful for. Just jot down a list, or write a haiku, or anything in between. Try it for at least one week.
Exercise Three: Write a Thank You Note
Expressing our gratitude spreads the joy around. Write a simple thank you note (it doesn’t have to be fancy, really!) to someone who you are grateful for. Perhaps they did some kindness for you, or you’re just really glad they are such a cool friend, perhaps they serve your community or work for a cause you care about, or perhaps they created a work of art that means a lot to you. Just tell them why you appreciate them and what they or their work have meant to you. Spread some gratitude goodness around!
Exercise Four: Make a Gift
Create a little more beauty and goodness in the world yourself, by making some kind of gift to the world. Bring cookies to a neighbor, or put out a bird feeder, bring dinner to someone in need, or make a donation to an organization helping others. It can even be as simple as letting someone go ahead of you in line – the world needs more kindnesses of all shapes and sizes. Be a gift to someone else, a reason for another to be grateful.
Exercise Five: Seek Out and Support Beauty
Artists and creators are actively bringing more beauty and wonder into the world. Take some time to seek it out – go to an art museum or gallery, a concert, or a show. Increasingly, art is being made available online as well, so you don’t even have to leave home to find it. Support art and artists, even if all you can afford is a postcard.
Video: How Beauty Can Save Us
Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams
Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone
- Have you ever been just stopped in your tracks by the beauty, mystery, wonder, and awe of the universe? When have you seen or experienced something that continued to stay with you afterward? What experiences have truly moved you?
- Do you find it easy and natural to keep an “attitude of gratitude”, or do you need to work at it? What helps you reorient toward gratitude, beauty, and abundance?
- What is one thing that you are most grateful for now, in your current stage of life? How has gratitude changed for you as you have aged? Are you grateful for different things now than when you were younger?
- Do you notice practicing gratitude changing the way you approach life? How?
- How can we put more beauty and goodness into the world? How much beauty and goodness is inherent and present even in horrible circumstances? Is beauty and goodness a human creation or an inherent part of the universe?
Next: Movement Ten