In most people’s lives, Thanksgiving Day could serve a higher purpose than food, football, and festivities. The spiritual value at the core of the holiday is gratitude. Everyone considers gratitude to be a positive thing, but we do not always stop to consider how powerful gratitude truly is.
Gratitude is a soul quality that brings our attention into the present, which is the only moment in which we can experience joy, love, compassion, and peace. Gratitude is also an enjoyable, life-affirming meditation of the heart. When we meditate on gratitude, the source of all giving—pure consciousness—becomes more accessible. We begin to notice what we have been given, rather than what we lack. We see love and beauty in an intimate way that makes it natural to live in the present moment. Research has also found that focusing on gratitude can measurably improve our emotional and physical well-being, including our heart health.
Cultivating Gratitude in Daily Life
Gratitude begins when we change our relationship with life from an attitude of rejecting and defending to one of accepting and appreciating. In practical terms, a major shift is involved, and so it is very useful to keep a gratitude journal. Each entry will shift your focus away from judgment and rejection to feelings of warmth and appreciation. We all sometimes need to be reminded of a truth expressed by the Greek philosopher Epicurus: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
When you spontaneously feel grateful for anything, don’t let the moment slip by. Pause, put your attention on the heart region in your chest, and experience the warm emotion suffusing it. This is how gratitude opens up the experience of love and bliss. At the same time, you are making a mind-body connection. The sensation of warmth in your heart tells you that the message of gratitude has been sent and received by your cells. You can reinforce this connection by visualizing what you are grateful for; visualization is a powerful way to focus your intention.
Another very good practice is to lie in bed for a few minutes before falling asleep to review your day, bringing to mind the experiences, people, and things you are grateful for but were too busy to pay much attention to during the day. In the words of the poet Maya Angelou, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” Feeling grateful can be a devotional meditation you practice every night.
The Deepest Level of Gratitude
Many people feel grateful in a way that doesn’t go very deep, especially if their focus is material. Being grateful for a great job, a big house, or a new car tends to keep everything on the surface. At a deeper emotional level, we are grateful for our families and good health. But at the deepest level, gratitude acknowledges that we have the support of nature. This support underlies our whole existence. It comes to us from pure consciousness, expressing itself through our true self.
Our true self is inextricably connected to pure consciousness and everything that flows from it. There is also another self, the ego, which manipulates life for its own purposes. The ego is constantly caught up in cravings and aversions. From the ego’s perspective, life proceeds by getting more of what we want and less of what we don’t want. But this process overlooks the divine qualities located in the true self, including love, compassion, truth, beauty, discovery, creativity, and evolution.
Some of these qualities do manage to make it to the surface of life, but our birthright is to have a much greater experience of them. Gratitude is a way of opening the channel that will awaken us to our true self, its divine qualities, and our infinite nature. The Buddha taught a gratitude meditation called “gladdening the heart,” instructing the aspirant to consider the wonderful circumstances that led them to seek spiritual awakening and the ability to achieve it.
Thanksgiving Day offers an opportunity to start, here and now, to bring the power of gratitude into your life. As you invite the warm attitude of appreciation into your awareness, your heart will overflow with thankfulness, and you will find reasons to be grateful wherever you look.