“There are going to be frustrations in life. The question is not: How do I escape? It is: How can I use this as something positive?”― Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
Many say that gratitude is the act of counting one’s blessings but this is only partially accurate. A gratitude practice extends beyond positive emotions to also acknowledge—and even appreciate—negative emotions and uncomfortable feelings.
“Conventional gratitude is based on distinguishing what we like from what we do not, good fortune from bad fortune, success from failure, opportunities from obstacles. But what about all the obstacles, unpleasant people, and difficulties in our life?”—Judy Lief
In Buddhism, negative emotions and experiences are viewed as lessons that help you to grow and deepen your spiritual practice. So it is valuable to not only be grateful for your loving family, beautiful vacation, or healthy body, but also for that annoying coworker, flat tire, or restless night of sleep. Every aspect of your life offers a lesson worth appreciating.
Maintaining gratitude throughout your day, no matter what situations arise, is a powerful skill. Not only does it center you in the present moment but it is one of the biggest keys to happiness. Continue reading to learn about gratitude meditation, its scientific benefits, and how you can develop a gratitude practice.
What Is A Gratitude Meditation?
Gratitude meditation is a mind training technique to cultivate mindful awareness of the present moment and feel grateful for all aspects of life. This expands beyond more passive mindfulness practice, because you are actively bringing to mind what you are grateful for using thoughts and visualization techniques.
A gratitude meditation practice is a powerful way to positively reframe your world view and open yourself to joy.
What are the benefits of practicing gratitude meditation?
Meditation has numerous scientifically-established benefits on the mind and body, and the benefits of gratitude meditation are no exception. Studies have shown that the effects of gratitude meditation include reduced stress, better sleep, increased empathy, decreased depression, more self-love and self-compassion, better relationships, increased happiness, and an overall improvement of mental health and well-being.
Gratitude meditation can reframe your perception of reality, building a habit of seeing the value in each moment that boosts your overall happiness. Gratitude meditation can help you overcome challenges in your daily life that may have seemed tedious or impossible before gratitude practice allowed you to see them as welcome opportunities for growth.
Another powerful benefit of gratitude is its positive impact on relationships. When you practice gratitude meditation, you slowly develop the skills of patience, compassion, and focus, which are important qualities for deepening relationships.
You also learn to be less self-centered when you practice gratitude by acknowledging the value of everything around you. Relationships are integral to your well-being and are one of the biggest sources of joy in our human experience. By expressing your gratitude to others and embodying an attitude of gratitude, you deepen your relationships and consequently improve your own well-being.
How to practice gratitude meditation
There are many different ways to practice gratitude meditation. One easy way to begin is to follow a guided meditation on gratitude. At the bottom of this blog you will find several free guided gratitude meditations. You can also guide your own gratitude meditation that includes the steps below.
- Set a timer for however long you want to meditate and find a safe and quiet space.
- Settle into a comfortable seated position on the floor or in a chair, making sure your spine is straight. You can close your eyes or keep them open with a soft gaze.
- Set an intention for this practice and how you want to use it to serve yourself and others. An example of this is the Buddhist four immeasurables prayer:
- May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings rejoice in the well-being of others. May all beings live in peace, free from greed and hatred.
- Take a few deep breaths to arrive in the present moment. With each exhale, allow your entire body to relax.
- Imagine a warm glowing light that starts from your chest and slowly expands throughout your entire body. Feel that this light is filling you with gratitude for everything in your life, a loving, peaceful feeling. You can also visualize someone you love or admire and direct your gratitude specifically towards them.
- When you are finished, take a final moment to dedicate the practice to yourself and others. Envision how your meditation practice will bring a little more kindness, love, and joy into your life and the world.
There are so many different types of meditation—from mindful movement to visualization to affirmations. The key is that, as you perform your daily ritual of self-care, you are also focusing on feelings of gratitude, in whatever way feels safe and sustainable to you at the moment.
Frequently asked questions about gratitude meditation
What time of day should I practice gratitude meditation?
Gratitude can serve as a great morning meditation by setting an intention for your day that infuses it with positive energy. Another great time for your gratitude practice is at night, when you can use it is a way to let go of the day and reset. This way, you later wake up feeling energized, with a sense of gratitude.
You can practice gratitude meditation at other times of the day too. What is most important is that you choose a time that fits with your routine so that you can commit to practicing regularly.
Do you really have to be grateful for all negative experiences?
Being grateful for absolutely everything may be a feat only achievable by highly evolved beings like the Dalai Lama. So no, you don’t have to be grateful for absolutely everything. If you are facing an extremely difficult situation like trauma or abuse, it won’t be helpful for someone to tell you to just “be grateful.” Even though there are people who have managed to find gratitude for even their most traumatic experiences, this is an advanced form of the practice and it may not feel safe for you to push this far.
What is the difference between gratitude and toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is the mindset that one must always maintain positive emotions no matter the situation. In this framework, negative emotions are considered undesirable and are suppressed. Toxic positivity shoves down any “bad emotions” which is unhealthy for yourself and for others.
Gratitude is not toxic positivity because it welcomes negative emotions. Negative emotions are appreciated and viewed as learning tools. Once they have served their purpose you can then release them. When you are grateful and allow all emotions to flow through you, then there’s no need to suppress negative emotions and build emotional blockages.
It is important to remember that negative emotions and experiences are integral to personal growth, developing empathy and compassion, and even your ability to fully experience positive emotions.
Free Guided Gratitude Meditations:
“Gratitude is confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk invigorates our own life.”– Jack Kornfield