Your Spiritual Practice: Gratitude
In this series, Your Spiritual Practice, we offer straightforward advice from Stephanie Ludwig, PhD, MA, MDiv, Resorts Director of Spiritual Wellness at Canyon Ranch® in Tucson, on how to use spirituality to help you navigate your way through some of life’s biggest challenges.
“If you’re going through a difficult time, it may be hard to practice gratitude,” acknowledges Ludwig. “So you want to be honest with how you’re feeling, otherwise, some of these practices may feel a little forced. So start by being clear about how you feel. Gratitude is not about changing yourself, but caring about what is happening in your heart. It starts with embracing whatever is real.”
Here’s Ludwig’s advice on how to integrate more gratitude into your life and why it’s so helpful to us spiritually, emotionally and physically:
1. Keep an eye out for things to be grateful for.
“It’s easy to start looking at the glass as half-empty instead of half-full, so one thing that helps is to look for things to be thankful for before they even happen,” explains Ludwig. There is a way of defining prayer that comes from a Native American tribe: to pray for something is to be grateful for it before it comes to you.
“There’s plenty in this world that isn’t so good—those things are easy to find. This helps you to always be on the lookout for what is positive.”
Doing so can actually be good for your health: One study found that people who identified things they felt grateful for, compared to those who focused on problems in their lives, were more likely to exercise regularly, feel better physically, and were more optimistic overall.
2. Keep a gratitude journal.
“Simply write down three things you’re grateful for, big or small, every day or even periodically—that’s a spiritual practice right there,” says Ludwig.
Anything could make you feel thankful—a phone call from a friend, your blooming garden, your dog. Jotting these things down encourages a positive outlook and may actually help you accomplish more: In one study, researchers found that people who kept a list of things they felt thankful for over a two-month period were likelier to have reached an important personal goal.
3. Spread the thankfulness around.
It’s especially important to express gratitude to your loved ones—and to yourself. “To practice gratitude in your relationship or marriage, each of you shares something that you’re grateful for about the other person,” Ludwig explains. “And you can be grateful for yourself, for the uniqueness and the qualities that you carry—so take a few moments to pat yourself on the back.”
Then, continue to express it to those around you. “When you express your gratitude outward, you’re giving other people a gift.” This, in turn, enriches your spiritual health by helping you be mindful and reflect in the moment.
Ludwig adds, “It is also contagious; and so it not only inoculates you against negativity, but protects others around you as well. Spiritually, gratitude is of the greatest benefit because it aligns our perceptions with the nature of reality—its wonder, its beauty, its superabundance. If you really look into the matter deeply, to focus on gratitude is to contemplate the Divine.”