“The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.” ~William Penn
Did you know that gratitude has been scientifically proven to strengthen your immune system and make you happier and more optimistic, as well as less lonely and isolated? It’s true, and although science has just recently caught up to this fact, the Buddhists have known it for years.
On a recent trip to Bhutan, my husband and I climbed to the Bumdra monastery and camped at 11,500 feet. The air was pure and clean, and the views were spectacular. And yet when the sun went down, all I could focus on were my frozen hands and feet.
As we huddled around the fire, I just wanted to climb into my sleeping bag and warm myself. The temperatures had dropped just below freezing, and any joy I might have felt was overshadowed by my chattering teeth.
Our guide, on the other hand, seemed impervious to the cold. He was wearing a Gho, a traditional knee-length robe that ties at the waist—and yet here I was, bundled in my down coat, freezing.
I asked him if he was cold, and he replied that he was grateful to be able to camp at this sacred site.
I kept questioning him, as I couldn’t really believe his answer. I truly couldn’t understand how he could ignore this bone-chilling cold. Didn’t he want a warmer jacket; didn’t he need a heater?
His reply humbled me: “Rather than focusing on what I don’t have, I focus on what I do—I am lucky to have a fire, I am lucky to have this job, I am lucky to have a tent, and I am lucky to have your company.”
I realized that he had just shared a very important secret to happiness. Focusing on our blessings allow us to celebrate the present moment and keep our attention on the good instead of the bad.
Human nature is to want what we don’t have and to dwell on the negatives—instead of celebrating what we do have and focusing on what’s going well.
My husband and I had planned this trip for months and had spent hours hiking up the mountain. And yet during the hike I had complained about being hot, and now here I was complaining about the cold. But as I listened to our guide share his contagious sense of gratitude, my attitude shifted, and I started to focus on my blessings.
I began to enjoy the incredible darkness and stillness of the night sky. I began to really focus on the stars, which cannot really be enjoyed living in a city that obscures the light. I began to really listen to this wise man and enjoy his stories.
Here’s the thing: being grateful has the power to block out negative emotions. You can’t really pay attention to what’s missing or what’s not going well if you only let your mind pay attention to what is.
As I began to enjoy the peacefulness of the night with my husband, my attitude changed, the cold faded, and I was suddenly filled with joy and gratitude for this incredible experience.
Weather changes, possessions come and go, and experiences—both good and bad–all come to an end. But our attitude of gratitude allows us to be fully present in every moment and to enjoy every last one.
Here are a few simple things to try to start feeling a little more blissful on a regular basis:
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
Make gratitude a daily habit. Every day, jot down 10 great things that happened to you or that you are grateful for. Keeping your focus on the positive will really make a difference.
2. Practice present moment awareness.
The habit of being fully present and not wishing for something in the future or the past—but just being grateful for what is—can really shift your perspective. Catch yourself when that moment escapes you, and gently remind yourself to come back.
3. Think bigger than yourself.
Become involved in a cause that is important to you. As you become aware of other people who are less fortunate than you, you will start to feel a deeper appreciation for what you do have.
4. Share the love with your family and friends.
Cultivate appreciation for others and let them know regularly that you are grateful for them and for what they do for you—whether it be helping around the house or always inviting you out for a fun dinner date. Focusing on the positive will make people want to keep doing it!
5. Replace complaints with gratitude.
When you find yourself focusing on what you believe you’re lacking—I wish my car were nicer, my house were bigger, I had more money—replace it with thoughts of what you are grateful and thankful for.
What are you grateful for today?
Photo by Graham Crumb