If you’ve ever held a newborn baby in your arms, you know: We were all born 100% vulnerable.
On day one, our lives were literally in someone else’s hands. We were dependant on others to feed us, clothe us, and keep us safe.
How different are things now?
I live in a home that someone else built, a home with sewage service and water access. I have milk in my fridge, and when it runs out, I’ll go to the store for more.
At our core, we’re still that newborn baby. We are undeniably reliant on other people. Even our personal needs, like companionship, don’t get fulfilled without the generous acts and heart of another human being.
What’s keeping so many of us from experiencing gratitude isn’t complicated or mysterious.
It’s our forgetfulness.
To experience more gratitude in our lives, we need to start remembering this—the reality of our dependency—more often. Today, I have three mindset shifts to help. All three have been essential to my own gratitude practice. I hope they’ll help you to stay vigilant, grounded, and deeply grateful, too.
New day means Newborn.
What we have to be grateful for is most obvious when we wake up: the comfort of a bed, the feeling of rest, the gift of breath and another day of life. Remember your dependency on that breath first thing in the morning. Make your first experience of the day the enjoyable act of receiving a gift. After all, gifts set a tone: When we know that we’ve received one, we’re less likely to approach the day with entitlement and fear. We’re better prepared to face the day—our work, our relationships—with contentment and confidence.
Gratitude has a voice—and it’s powerful.
Once we’ve started to cultivate gratitude internally, we tend to want to express it. If we do so meaningfully, it can have an incredible impact on our relationships. When we remember to thank coworkers, it acknowledges our dependence on their good work. It respects their dignity and shows we aren’t entitled, even if there’s a disparity in position. When we stop to notice that someone’s been overworked lately, we give the gift of encouragement and time in a place where most people are starved of appreciation.
Speaking of being starved of appreciation, don’t we all want to know that our lives and work matter to someone? When you give voice to the act of service someone has provided, it boosts their sense of meaning, worth, and value. This is why we like appreciation so much. Expressions of gratitude are relational capital. When we share our appreciation, we strengthen the bond between the people we encounter daily. We also encourage a higher quality of work while we’re at it.
Our best asset is The Reset.
Lapses in gratitude are inevitable—which makes ‘resetting’ a crucial part of our gratitude practice. We have to remind ourselves of the insight, encouragement, and gifts that other people have given us. We have to return to that others-centered place where we can, and want to, acknowledge: I am not self-sufficient.
Here’s an amazing thing about true gratitude: It manages the polarities of life. On an everyday level, it is possible to have a horrible day ahead and to summon thankfulness that we have a day ahead. Gratitude doesn’t minimize the pain, but it holds it in balance with the good, which is also real and present. When that balance gets upset—when we’re self-absorbed or strung out, or our circumstances have become personally triggering—it’s important to remember our capacity to reset.
Keep re-engaging. Recognize that difficult circumstances might require even more intentionality than normal. Don’t heap contempt on yourself. Don’t give up. Do the simplest thing you can do: Set and reset reminders—in your journal, on your mirror, in your phone:
“I am not self-sufficient.”
“Thank you for another day.”
“This job is providing.”
Even the smallest act of remembrance is a start, a gift to the you who will begin again tomorrow.
Check out the habit tracker app Strides. With this app, you can set daily reminders that will pop up on your phone and track your habit ‘streak.’ A little bit of gratitude gamification can be fun and motivating. Are you more of a pen and paper person? Start a gratitude journal, and update it daily.
Counterstories is a blog collaboration between conflict resolution specialist Steve Beck and writer/editor Rachael Schmid. If you have a powerful story of forgiveness or peacemaking (or just want to share your thoughts on this post), we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.