Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

by Beth
Contentment by Maxfield Parrish*
The word “gratitude” means to be thankful and appreciative for something or someone. An attitude of gratitude helps us live our lives with a greater sense of well-being, in spite of difficulties and disappointments. Feelings of gratitude change the brain by activating the production of dopamine and serotonin, the ‘feel good’ chemicals. And as Nina points out in It is not finding gratitude that matters; it is remembering to look in the first place, making an effort to find gratitude is just as important as experiencing it. 

I myself have used a combination of techniques to cultivate my attitude of gratitude and at this point in my life I can experience gratitude on three levels: 

Level One: Daily Life Stuff 
  1. After days of cold weather and rain, the sun comes out, the sky brightens, my mood lifts, and I experience a sudden onset of gratitude for sunshine. 
  2. As I contemplate my daily ‘to do’ list my mind says, ‘Do it all!” I feel anxious and tune into my body, which says, ‘Edit!’ The list gets re-shuffled, anxiety eases, and I experience an attitude of gratitude toward my body. 
  3. There’s a saying that suggests the best way to deal with a problem is to “sleep on it.” Sometimes that really works. After years of trying unsuccessfully to sell my house, I gave up and recruited housemates to help pay the bills. About a year later, I was attending a yoga training in Florida. Halfway through, I woke up one morning with a directive, which I assumed came from my subconscious. It said, “Go home and put your house on the market!” It was insistent. When I returned home, I put my house on the market. It sold within two weeks. Talk about feeling grateful! 

Level Two: Big-Ticket Stuff 

Here’s a list of things that I’m grateful for in spite of the difficulties and disappointments that come along with each and every one: 
  1. Health (in spite of aches, pains, moody blues, and chronic stuff) 
  2. My son (a kind and talented human being who has not yet made me a grandma!) 
  3. My condo (it comes with some irritating association rules plus car alarms that are always going off in the parking lot) 
  4. Sense of humor (I can laugh at, or at least see the humor in, life's absurdities, difficulties, and disappointments, especially my own) 
  5. Creativity (it has taken decades for me to find my voice and write but better late than never even when I’m blocked and frustrated!) 

Level Three: Santosha (Contentment) 

Gratitude and contentment are closely related. They’re like two peas in a pod. Gratitude can be seen as a subtler aspect, or shade, of santosha. In her book The Secret Power of Yoga, Nishala Joy Devi offers this example: 

“In South India, there is a heartfelt way of expressing one’s appreciation. Instead of saying, 'thank you,' they say, 'Santosha [I am content]'.” 

Santosha is one of the niyamas, from the 2nd limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Ram offers this explanation in his post Santosha: Happiness, and Longevity

“Santosha Anuttamah Sukha Labhah

From an attitude of contentment/true happiness (santosha), mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction (anuttamah sukha) are obtained. —Swami Jnaneshvara 

To be contented and happy, even while experiencing life’s difficulties, becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances.” 

We can approach santosha by finding a way to be satisfied with what we have even as we may be working to have more (free time, money, recognition, better job, etc.). It’s also the ability to remain centered and peaceful no matter what is happening: not getting too low when daily glitches and messy life situations show up (and they will) and not getting too excited when things go 100% the way we hoped (and we always hope they will). Finding the middle ground is not always easy but practicing gratitude is a steppingstone on the path to experiencing santosha consciously and more often. 

A quick search on the Internet offers lists of ways to practice. I found some with 7, 25, 29, 31 and 40 ways. These include waking up in the morning and naming five things that you are grateful for before your feet hit the floor, making daily entries in a gratitude journal, or choosing affirmations to repeat as you brush your teeth or make your breakfast smoothie. 

Here’s what I’ve chosen. I’ve been doing the first two practices for several years. The third one is new but it feels good. 

Suggested Gratitude Practices 

1. Affirmation 

Using affirmations helps to encourage a positive outlook. This one works to help cultivate an attitude of gratitude: 

“Thank You for Everything, I Have No Complaint Whatsoever.”

From what I’ve been able to find, the affirmation is attributed to Sono, a female Zen master, who lived about 150 years ago. I don’t know how accurate that attribution is but I use it because it helps me feel ‘santoshic’ (if that can be a word). 

2. Gratitude Popcorn 

This is my favorite practice. Make an intention to notice things to be grateful for throughout the day, every day. As you move from moment to moment, something inevitably floats to the surface and ‘pops’ into your consciousness. When that happens silently or out loud say, “Thank you” and smile. 

3. Chaturmukham Mudra for Santosha
This is from Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian LePage. The recommendation is to hold the mudra for 5–10 breaths, gradually working up to five minutes as long as you are comfortable. If desired, you can repeat this up to three times a day
  1. Touch the tips of all the fingers of each hand to the same fingers on the opposite hand. 
  2. Extend your thumbs straight up. 
  3. Keep your fingers separated and rounded as if holding a globe, with your wrists comfortably apart. 
  4. You can hold the gesture slightly away from your body or with your wrists resting comfortably against your abdomen. 
  5. Relax your shoulders back and down, with your elbows held slightly away from your body and your spine naturally aligned. 

“A contented heart is a calm sea in the midst of all storms.” — Anonymous 

Let an attitude of gratitude be your boat. 

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