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Three Ways to Deepen Your Gratitude Practice

The art and science of happiness has begun to get a lot of attention in the media lately. At the same time, practice of gratitude is now recognized as an important path to happiness. Research has begun to show us what we all intuitively understand, which is that the practice of gratitude improves our moods, our relationships, makes us more optimistic, and even helps us take better care of our health.
I'm sure you understand the basic concept of a gratitude journal as part of gratitude practice - just set aside few minutes every day to write down what you're grateful for. By placing some focused attention on gratitude, you practice the art of being grateful and gradually it becomes a habit. Remember, the way we focus our attention profoundly affects our experience of daily life and our relationship with ourselves. Why not have a more grateful and positive experience in life?
Gratitude is helpful in any form. However, if you're finding it hard to generate ideas (or you're a whiz at gratitude and are ready to take it to a deeper level), here are some exercises that can help you dig in:
1. Be grateful for the different kinds of people in your life.
Try following the following cycle, spending a few minutes contemplating gratitude for these categories of people: yourself, a benefactor or someone who has always been a source of goodness and wisdom in your life, a friend, a neutral person (i.e. someone who you have neither positive nor negative feelings toward, this could be a stranger), and someone irritating or you simply don't like (in the Buddhist tradition, this is sometimes called an enemy).
Start with yourself because loving and being grateful for yourself allows you to have a strong core from which you can be grateful for others. Then continue the cycle, starting with people for whom it is easy to be grateful and progressing to more challenging people.
Why would you be grateful for an irritating person? Sometimes people and situations that we don't like, while unpleasant, offer us lessons and possibilities for self-development that we could not get in any other way. For example, irritating people teach you how to be patient, give you an opportunity to ask yourself if you do some of the same behaviors, or give you insight into others when they are frustrated with people in their life. It's also a great opportunity to practice compassion. You had situations in your life that allowed you to become you are and we rarely know the path and challenges that led other people to become who they are.
If you are familiar with loving kindness meditation, you will recognize this cycle. If you'd like to learn more about lovingkindness, read the book "Loving-kindness the Revolutionary Art of Happiness" by Sharon Salzberg.
2. Be thankful for your past, your present, and your future. Go through a cycle of contemplating these three phases of your life, noting the gifts that people and situations have brought to you. Many of us have experienced challenges in our life and even face difficult situations in our current life, but it's possible to look for lessons and understand how our life situations brought us to be who we are. For example, in life coaching I've seen that sometimes people who face the greatest challenge in their lives are capable of the greatest compassion and self reflection.
3. Be thankful for what you do not have. Sometimes what we do not have, such as dreams or even material things, become important sources of inspiration to create a great life. On the other hand, sometimes what we do not have offers as an opportunity to learn about ourselves, to be patient, or to develop greater depth of character.
Good luck with these gratitude tools. If you'd like any support of pursuing your gratitude practice or just want someone to celebrate your new insights, you're invited to contact me anytime. Enjoy your beautiful life!