Practicing Gratitude

“I’m here because nothing works anymore.”  My new patient had tried online therapy, meditation videos, journalling and more.  Even her medication was creating side effects that outweighed the benefits.  “I’m doing all the work and getting none of the results” she said, with tears of frustration welling up in her eyes.  She was driven to “get it right”, and that really resonated with me.  

I chose to begin by asking her to elaborate about her “gratitude practice”.  Everything she’d read online lead her to believe that practicing gratitude would bring her a connection to God, or a higher power, or even closer to the world around her.   As she spoke, it sounded like a lot of work and frustration.  One of the tropes of the Internet culture is “doing the work”.  When it comes to gratitude, where is the scorecard? Is there a playbook? How, exactly, is gratitude “practiced”? 

Gratitude Practice

In my opinion, gratitude is a felt experience.  If we work too hard at it, it often ceases to be a feeling.  Even putting it into words can distance us from the feeling.  So, I asked her to slow down and just be with things she appreciated in life.  She is a gardener, so I suggested she picture a flower in her yard. I asked her to calm her mind, focus on the shape of the petals, the deep purple hue, the fragrance, the leaves surrounding it.  She closed her eyes and connected with the pleasure of being with the flower in that moment.

During her next visit, she began extending this deep felt experience into other things in her life.  She began to feel a deep connection, a calmness of mind, and a settling of her “mind looping”.   By not “working” so hard, she began to reap the benefits of her “practice”.  

I’m reminded of a story from my early family life.  “Jimmy the drunk” (a name happily given to himself by himself) was asked how he knows there is a God.  He answered “well, who put the water in the watermelon?”  Gratitude is not something to work, but rather, it is the filter, experience of immersion, appreciation and joy in a particular moment.  

Sometimes it’s just more simple than we make it.