I have always has trouble with gratitude as an abstract concept, and with gratitude journals as a practice.
My intellectual overexcitabilities often manifest as a need for tight linguistic precision. The word gratitude means a feeling of being grateful. Being grateful means an appreciation of a kindness or a benefit received. Receipt of a kindness or a benefit implies a source or giver, an agency. And the word gift indicates that something is offered without expectation of return. If the definition includes the lack of expectation, the implication is that a giver has the choice to expect a return or not. And so, the word gratitude implies receipt of a gift from a conscious, decision-making entity.
I have no trouble with the idea of gratitude with regard to a kindness a person has done me, but I am not thankful for a beautiful sunset, no matter how much I may appreciate it. A sunset is a natural phenomenon. No one created that sunset. Nobody gave it to me. It just is.
But, a beautiful sunset is a thing to appreciate and value.
For anyone who is uncomfortable with gratitude journals as a practice, I offer an alternative from InterPlay. InterPlay is a bodywisdom practice that helps people integrate all the elements of their experience into one playful, messy whole through improvisational forms derived from the performance arts. It is a tremendously useful set of tools for highly sensitive people.
One of the 8 basic principles of InterPlay is “Notice the good stuff.” I have written about this principle several times on my own blog. The basic principle is very simple. Keep your awareness open for the good stuff and acknowledge it. Like the discipline of a gratitude journal, this is a tool for focusing on the positive things in your life.
In every moment, there are good and bad things. Focusing on the good doesn’t make the bad go away, but it does make it easier to take.
A gentle practice for noticing the good stuff is as follows. Take a deep breath and let it out on a sigh. Repeat. Shake out one hand. Shake out the other. Shake out a leg. Shake out the other leg. Give your whole body a shake, gentle or vigorous as feels good to you. Soften your focus so that you become aware of your peripheral vision. Enter the next activity of your life with the intention of looking for the good. When you see a good thing, take a deep breath to acknowledge and savor it. For a more powerful experience, acknowledge it aloud to another person.
One thing I like about the practice I just described is that it brings you into awareness of the good stuff in the moment. Unlike a gratitude journal entry written before bed, it is not a reflective practice. It is a practice in present awareness. I invite you to try it and see how it feels in your body.
For more information about InterPlay, I recommend reading the following and then looking for a class or playgroup near you: The Power of Play, Sneaky-Deep: Easing Into Truth and A Few InterPlay Forms.
Kate can usually be found writing about writing at www.katearmsroberts.com.