A lot can stand in the way of feeling genuine gratitude. “Gratitude” can even feel like a loaded term. It often invokes a sense of entitlement around who is or isn’t grateful for what they have.
When we’re told we should feel grateful, now the word is tied up with shame or guilt. And to avoid feeling shame or guilt and being judged by ourselves or others, we may say that we’re grateful that we still have a job, or that no one close to us died from COVID. But comparing our fortunate situation to someone else’s misfortune isn’t the kind of gratitude I’m promoting here. When we’re viewing gratitude from the polarity of being grateful or ungrateful, we’re just caught up in our judgments. The deeper meaning of gratitude is lost.
What Is Gratitude?
To feel genuine gratitude is to appreciate what our relationships, activities, possessions and personal development bring into our lives, such as joy and ease. But again, it’s not a polarity. It’s not about feeling UN-grateful for the things that aren’t all that juicy, like cleaning the litter box or having a necessary interaction with a difficult person.
Gratitude is a profound concept. I’ve often felt conflicted about how it is trivialized or reduced to exercises like: “Make a list of ten things you’re thankful for.” In my experience, this serves to keep our understanding of gratitude superficial.
Gratitude can’t be forced. For example, if you move your lips into the shape of a smile, it releases endorphins. So, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that if you practice smiling, doing so will make you feel better. And while it might, I think we can agree that your decision to smile isn’t anything like the spontaneous smile that results from the feeling that wells up from within when you’re reunited with a loved one you haven’t seen in ages.
So how do we get to this deeper, spontaneous expression of gratitude?
Getting to Gratitude Through Essence
My answer is to cultivate gratitude by focusing on essence. Essence is the feeling-experience we want our experiences, possessions and relationships to bring us, like enjoyment, freedom or ease. Essence is the feeling we have when we are fulfilled by something. And once you’ve identified the essence qualities that really make your heart sing, you can then focus on being more mindful of when and where these essences are happening in your life.
The more aware of essence you are, the more appreciative you feel. When you practice cultivating essence, you can’t help but experience genuine gratitude in the process.
Gratitude is an essence word itself. It’s one of the “broader” essence qualities like fulfillment, freedom, or love that often accompany other essence qualities.
To Cultivate Essence, Focus on the Small Things First
We tend to focus on big picture accomplishments when we think about gratitude. For me, those “bigger” things are my children, my grandchildren and my other close personal relationships, including the amazing women we work with at One Body Incorporated. These aspects of my life are easy to identify. But there are also plenty of small things that enrich my life. I find that taking the time to notice them helps me develop an even deeper experience of gratitude.
For me, these “small” things include the satisfaction I feel from teaching what I have learned, as well as learning new things. My garden provides me with a creative outlet. And I feel so much gratitude when I see the beauty of the space I have created and can enjoy the wildlife it attracts.
Similarly, my daily hike in the park near my home might be called a “smaller” essence. But it’s sacred to me for many reasons including peacefulness, a connection to nature and my health and wellness, as well as the shear joy of moving my body!
In fact, the genuine gratitude I feel for this natural space is so great that I joined the board for the park. I’ve added community, and stewardship to my essence list as I interact with other like-minded people to raise funds and improve the park for the whole community to enjoy. I spend so much of my spare time maintaining the trails that last week my 11-year-old granddaughter called me from the park playground to ask if I was there because she and her sisters heard a leaf blower!
Her call reminded me of 3 more essences: providing a safe, clean and fun place for my grandkids to play. I also offer them an example of someone experiencing the joy of service. And for all of this, I couldn’t be more grateful. This is just one example of how gratitude can grow by starting with the small things, like a hike in the park.
How to Start Paying Attention
As you follow the trail of essence in your life, you’ll find that small, incremental changes aimed at essence can lead to bigger ones. Essence can’t help but accumulate once you focus on it. And genuine gratitude will naturally flow from this.
To receive the rich rewards of gratitude, start paying close attention to what gives you essence. Take the time to identify the essence quality. If you’re not sure where to start, simply look around you. Why did you buy your computer, your phone or that handbag? Was it for the economy, portability, functionality, or its sleek design? Did that new book or magazine subscription feed you intellectually, emotionally or even spiritually?
What are you glad to have in your environment and why? Move around until you find yourself somewhere you appreciate being. Then, ask yourself what it is about this space that brings you essence. Is it peaceful? Do you find it inviting or comfortable? If you like being there, essence is the reason. Identify that essence and consider what you can do to bring more of that essence into the other spaces you inhabit. What can you do to bring more of it into your life overall?
Gratitude really is about what we pay attention to. Because our brains are biased to negativity, we have to retrain our focus to recognize these essence qualities instead. This allows us to better see what is already there and invite more of it into our lives. Once you notice the essence, you will likely notice that genuine gratitude is also present along with it. And you will slowly come to experience more and more. In this way, gratitude becomes a natural outflow of focusing on what is essence-rich for you.
Take good care : )