O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
As we move into chapter four of Diana Butler Bass’s book, Grateful:The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, she moves us forward to the idea that habits are critical to a life of gratitude. There are practices that make gratitude so flowing and natural in our every day experiences that, even in times of difficulty or death, we can dip into an inner place that is gracious and full.
Our lives are steeped in habits, even if they are invisible to us at first. The ways we wake up, go to work, finish work, eat, sleep, go, come, interact, are patterned and predictable for a reason. Intentionality leads to good habits and good habits help us accomplish worthwhile things even when we are going through a fog otherwise.
Saying thanks at meal time is a habit many of us grew up with. Saying grace can become a mindless, rote exercise but Bass insists that the habit of doing it nevertheless reminds us to be thankful for food, family, health, etc. Happily, nearly half of Americans still say grace at least a few times a week before their meal.
There are various ways to build gratitude into our days; beginning and ending them with reflective prayer is important. This isn’t the traditional ‘doing devotions’ that is often emphasized in christian circles but simply taking a few simple moments to remind and refresh our thoughts. She provides some examples of prayers and poems she keeps by her bed that she uses to bookend her days.
The end of the day is a traditional time for reflection and thanks and Bass proposes the practice of journaling as a means of remembering correctly and being able to explore and consider our experiences.
She also mentions something I wrote about last time called the Examen. This involves taking a few moments at the end of the day to:
- Become aware of God’s presence.
- Review the day with gratitude.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the dyad pray from it.
- Look toward tomorrow.
Imagine falling asleep with honesty and gratitude in your final, sleepy thoughts…. Not surprisingly, science has shown that people who practice gratitude at the end of the day will have deeper and more restful sleep.
Bass shares some personal experiences about those who fell into the habit of resentment or negativity. In spite of her efforts to be positive and encouraging, she describes people who had many blessings and opportunities but actually lived negative, defeated lives because they would not see the larger good around them.
She stresses that in life we all encounter headwinds, circumstances that exhaust us, push us back and threaten to defeat us but at the same time we also experience tailwinds which can lift, propel, and bless us if we take advantage of them.
‘All around us, every day, there are gifts. Whether we are facing a crisis or not, no matter our challenges or feelings, there are gifts, most of which go unnoticed, unappreciated, and often disregarded.’ (p86) ‘Gratitude is not only an emotion, it is something we do. But it is not a program. It is like tending a garden.’ (p90)
‘Mindfulness’ is simply a lifestyle of choosing to be present, cultivating an awareness and gratitude for our every moment. Rather than choosing to focus on our failures, disappointments, resentments, etc. we can choose to do the hard work of seeing what is good and positive.
It is more than positive thinking, it is managed thinking. To relax in what is familiar, to be appreciative in the now.
‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ – Jesus