Everyone has experienced what I call “intangible blah days.” They’re the type where nothing is wrong, but nothing is great, either: You wake up feeling lethargic. On your wish list is a repellent for all of those super-chipper people. And even coffee doesn’t seem to help. If left untreated, this sense of apathetic indifference lingers the whole day and saps you dry of your creativity, vitality and joie de vivre. Simply put…the day sort of sucks.
Practicing gratitude—and I mean really practicing it—cures intangible blah days. Taking the time to do this provides a boost of clarity and assuredness that stays with you the rest of the day. I’ll throw in the disclaimer that practicing gratitude isn’t always easy. You have to wrestle with negative thoughts lurking in the crevices of your brain that you didn’t know were there. But, it’s like any exercise: after a while, it gets easier. When you see results and the way your thoughts about life, people and events transform into something amazing, it becomes one of the most enjoyable parts of the day.
So let’s get started. First, you’re going to need a set of mala beads, or, a strand of 108 beads strung together like a necklace. To clarify, this isn’t a Buddhist exercise and mala beads are not normally used in this fashion. You could use any necklace with beads, technically. I just prefer mala beads because there are many of them on a strand (which comes into play later) and the beads rest comfortably in my hand. Plus, some of the ones available on the market are gorgeous–they are made with stones, wood, seeds and other neat material. You can make your own, if you wish. String 100 or so beads of your choice and tie it into a necklace. Just leave about half an inch or so of space, as this will enable you to slide the beads with ease.
Find somewhere to spend 30 minutes to an hour without interruption. It doesn’t have to be an empty room. In fact, sometimes a place with lively stimulation helps with this exercise.
Take out your beads and start with the first one on the strand. Think of something for which you’re grateful and ruminate on it for a moment. Then, move on to the second bead. After you’ve thought of a second thing, slide the bead over and move on to the third one. Continue the process until you have given gratitude for 108 things (or however many beads are on your strand).
And that’s it! This process might sound deceptively simple, to which I reply that it is, and it isn’t. Though several articles offer tips on how to practice gratitude, the process is an individual one. Try the process for a few days and you may encounter several common issues. For these, I’ll offer the following tips:
–It’s common to sit for several minutes and draw a complete blank. Sometimes you’ll be get anxious and think of everything you have to do with your day. You’ll sit there holding your 43rd bead wishing it was your 107th. First, relax. Tell yourself that you have all the time you need. Start with being grateful for something in your immediate surroundings. For example, look at the plant sitting in the café and think, “I’m grateful for that plant. It’s a really pretty shade of green. I wonder who planted it? Whoever it is, I’m thankful that he contributed to giving me a source of beauty today.” Say thanks with regards to the person sitting two tables over, even if you know nothing about them.
–Transmute all distractions into a positive experience. If a car horn blares loudly outside or a baby starts screaming, use it as a point of meditation. Find what Geshe Michael Roach calls the “emptiness” of the situation, or, its potential. In this case, think, “That driver must be in a hurry. I hope that driver gets where he needs to go safely. May he have some reprieve from his busy life later in the day.” With the baby, think, “I’m thankful that baby has a mother who works hard to quell her cries. Not every kid is so lucky, and this bead is for those kids, too.” The point of doing this is two-fold: One, it instinctively gets you in the habit of flipping irritation into empathy the moment such feelings arise. Secondly, it reinforces the notion that nothing is inherently good or bad. It simply is.
–Say thanks for events that have not happened yet, but you wish will occur. Paulo Coelho famously states in his book, “The Alchemist,” that when you want something, the universe conspires to help you achieve it. Even if you don’t buy that premise, think of it from this way: When you state an action with confidence, it triggers your mind that it’s possible. Subconsciously, your mind begins to devise ways to accomplish it. After all, a part of your mind now thinks the action is reality. You might be surprised at how often such wishes come true. And if not, what’s the worst that could happen? You sit somewhere, beads in hand with a stupid grin on your face while you daydream like you’re 5, imagining what you want to be when you grow up? Oh well. Thank the ether for getting that promotion or for going on the perfect date with the woman of your dreams. It doesn’t hurt.
–Say thanks for traits you wish to possess. When you verbalize the traits, a natural reaction is your brain immediately putting you in that context. If you say, “I am thankful to have natural creativity and innovation,” there’s a flicker that happens in your mind. You can feel it, too. It’s subtle, and sometimes fleeting, but for a split second your brain imagines you in a creative, innovative capacity. If you can, hold onto that thought and bask in it. Repeat it if necessary.
–Thank the people who have wronged you and wish them well. Now this one’s tough. Really tough. When I thought of my awful roommate from college, I instinctively tensed up. I was grateful to have my beads as an anchor, reminding me that I couldn’t devolve into this black spiral of thoughts. I looked at my remaining beads and knew I had to work through this one in order to get to the rest. So, I took a deep breath and thought, “thank you for Amy. I hope her mother is feeling better, since I know her sickness caused Amy a lot of stress sometimes.” When I said this small “prayer” for her, something funny happened—my frustrations were suddenly given clarity. She’s not a bad person. She merely reacted to the set of circumstances in front of her, in the only way she knew how. After dedicating a bead to Amy for three straight sessions I no longer have anger toward her. Just liberating indifference.
After some practice, giving gratitude tends to crop up automatically, even without beads in your hand. You’ll find yourself thinking, “wow, I’m grateful for this meal. It was delicious!” or, “I’m thankful for this rain since it leaves the best smell.” People suddenly seem a lot friendlier. Your irritation melts and you see the positive aspect of the situation. You become grateful to be… well, grateful.
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