For the first few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, most Americans felt a heightened sense of gratitude. As a New Yorker, I found myself suddenly grateful for things ordinary -- water, a roof over my head, and electricity -- and extraordinary, such as the flood of calls and e-mails from friends and family making sure I was okay.
But, I keep wondering, can I possibly make this feeling last? Can the country as a whole? To do so will require us to think radically anew about gratitude, making it a notion far more central to our lives. We'll need a "gratitude revolution."
As a nation, we've designated one day each year to give thanks for our blessings. But the world's faiths and spiritual traditions have long emphasized the value of creating small, regular, frequent rituals to make us continually conscious of what we have. Here are eight ways -- some plucked from the world's religions, others from spiritually-creative people of today -- to help keep us on a heightened state of gratefulness alert.
"When we first wake up, our minds are very subtle and delicate," says Tibetan Buddhist teacher Thubten Chodron. "If we set a strong positive motivation at this time, there is a greater chance of it staying with us and influencing us throughout the day."
There's a Jewish prayer, the shechechiyanu
, whose exuberant spirit of praise and gratitude makes it a beautiful way of beginning the day:
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God,
Ruler of the Universe,
For keeping us alive and preserving us and
Permitting us to behold this day.
A Shinto morning prayer states:
"I pray that this day, the whole day, as a child of God, I may not be taken hold of by my own desire, but show forth the divine glory by living a life of creativeness, which shows forth the true individual."
Or, if you don't like formal prayers, just keep it simple: "Thank you for the day about to unfold."
Force yourself to mentally sift through your day -- putting aside the worries about things you should or shouldn't have said or done -- and find the blessings. Sometimes this can be a real challenge but this discipline helps clear the mind, flush away the painful parts of the day, and above all, it helps us keep things in perspective.
One Christian prayer includes the sentiment:
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us, and all who have no peace.
A Sufi mystic writes:
O my Lord, the stars are shining and the eyes of men are closed, and kings have shut their doors and every lover is alone with his beloved, and here am I alone with Thee.
One way to bring closure to the day is to review everything that went on and to pick out the things that we are grateful for--anything from still being employed to chairing a successful meeting to helping a client solve a problem. Maybe our kids said something that tickled us, or our spouse called just to say "Hi! I love you." Noting our blessings puts us in a positive frame of mind, which helps us sleep more deeply and peacefully.
include some familiar ones and some you may not have heard, such as:
"Bless our food that it may bring us strength in our body, vigor in our mind, and selfless devotion in our hearts for His service."
Or, take a simple moment of silence in gratitude for the nourishment you're receiving.
A more formal way of acknowledging our blessings is the gratitude journal. The concept is simple: each day write down something, while it's fresh in your mind, for which you feel grateful. This helps engrave the sentiment in your brain and, when you go back later, reminds you of blessings you'd forgot you had.
Beliefnet members have created several different ways to do this. The first is to participate in an ongoing prayer circle. There are also message boards where members post what they are grateful for. Or if you're more of a private person, you can create your own gratitude journal by using our prayer circle format. All these options can be found by clicking here
Pick a gratitude quote
and put it on your refrigerator, bulletin board, or desk. It's a reminder of the benefits of a grateful heart and a gentle prod to keep up your gratitude practice.
A few to get you started:
"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
"I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet."
Five times a day, tell your children, friends, spouse or co-workers something you appreciate about them. While there's some danger that, in order to reach your requisite number of plaudits, you'll throw out a few disingenuous declarations, this is considered a forgivable offense.
The thank-you note has become a lost art, a victim of our time-strapped lifestyles. But making the effort to send our thanks for a gift, a dinner, or anything someone went out of their way to do for us is a thoughtful and touching gesture, one that benefits both giver and receiver.
helps the one doing the giver as much as it does the recipient. By seeing or thinking about someone needier, it makes us appreciate what we have. Even giving something to a friend--a scarf, a book, a car--can force that same sense of counsciousness.
Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi is fond of saying that we don't bless enough. His way of correcting the situation is to bestow blessings liberally, whether it's to reaffirm that someone's prayers be answered or to bless the search for a business associate.
Sascha T. Moore, in an article in St. Anthony Messenger
, agrees. She says we've become a country of cursers, not blessers. "Our days are filled with endless opportunities," she writes, "to practice the art of blessing
." In the subway or supermarket, on the highway when something annoying happens, don't curse the dark act, she advises. Bless the person or place
in order to turn the energy around.
Rivka Danzig, a Jewish psychotherapist in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, recites blessings continually.
"Everything we do is preceded by, and often ended by, prayers," said Danzig, a lifelong Orthodox Jew. Before eating or drinking, before lighting Sabbath candles, or upon seeing a friend, Danzig says a prayer. It's a practice, she says, that brings God into your life many times every single day.
What you can do is notice the small positive things that come into your life--an easy commute, your baby sleeping through the night, the last rose in your garden--and offer up a short prayer of thanksgiving.