Getting a raise at work. Meeting the love of your life. Big experiences like these naturally prompt us to feel grateful. But we cannot rely on these events happening daily. So to sustain that feeling, it is important to appreciate the mundane; to appreciate everyday life experiences.
When gratitude is reserved for monumental occurrences, people wait for these to happen or spend much of their time trying to achieve them. Either way, much of their lives leave them emotionally flat or even unhappy. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness that “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
With this recognition, you can change your life simply by choosing to nurture your ability to see the “miracles” in your daily life. Three ways to help build this awareness are:
Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write down three (or more) experiences from the day that you are grateful for. These can be as significant as receiving a glowing review from your boss, or as simple as appreciating the beauty of snow falling. When you engage in this practice, it is essential that you don’t just note the experience, but that you truly experience it. This means embodying the feeling of appreciation as you reflect on it.
Respond to difficulties by reflecting on the positive or what is going well. This can be tricky. The idea is not to ignore or minimize your struggles. Acknowledging them is a validation of your experiences, and just focusing elsewhere does not get rid of them. But even as you do that, you can also look for “blessings” or “miracles” or the good things in your life. You might appreciate your health, or supportive friends, or your passion for ... anything.
Pause at any moment in your day -- or at a set time -- to appreciate that moment. It is easy for the moments of our lives to flow past without us even recognizing them or the many elements of them. For instance, as I practice being aware of things to be grateful for in this moment, I am conscious of my body being relatively physically healthy (despite some aches and pains), having enough clarity of mind to engage in a job that I enjoy, and knowing that I have many supportive friends and family.
Just as I explained for the gratitude journal, all of these practices require you to fully embrace a sense of appreciation. To reiterate: rather than trying to deny or cancel out your struggles, these practices are meant to help you to also absorb those aspects of your life worthy of gratitude. Lip service is not enough. If you struggle with this, start with noticing something to appreciate. Be open to what makes you think that you are or “should be” appreciative. Consider how your life is better with it -- even if your response is simply that it brings beauty to your life. Taking time to notice and sit with everyday experiences of gratitude can help you to nurture some happiness no matter the struggles in your life.