The following are spiritual practices to cultivate gratitude. You can choose one or more than one. The practices are admittedly concrete, even pedestrian. Giving thanks is magical and rewarding. Therefore, the exercises don’t need to be. They just need to spur gratitude, and then the upward spiral of appreciation and blessing will provide all the inspiration you will need.
When you read about these practices, notice what feelings and expectations come up. What seems easy and inspiring? What brings up resistance? Reading about the practices and staying aware of your responses can be an exercise in itself.
Consider sharing some of these exercises around your Thanksgiving table. Depending on the ages and dispositions of family and friends, you might engage in one of the exercises together (2, 3, 4, & 5 are best suited for a group process), as a kind of contemporary Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals).
1. Do a forensic accounting of your current thanksgiving capacity. Track yourself and notice: How many times a day do you thank God or people? Choose a number or frequency you want to reach, and make a plan for how you will get there. Do you aspire to 100 blessings each day? A blessing each morning, noon, and night? One more blessing than you typically say right now?
2. Establish a “complaining covenant” with yourself and/or another person. Under what circumstances and when will you complain? How will you respond to complaints? Similarly, establish a “thanksgiving covenant.” Under what circumstances and when will you give thanks? How will you respond to expressions of gratitude?
3. Rabbis Kerry Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath suggest in Striving Toward Virtue: “Choose a single moment that occurs every day – such as exercising, eating, or even taking a vitamin – and consider adding a ritual that demonstrates your gratitude for it – or in general.” Make a choice and practice your ritual for one month. At the end of that time, assess the impact of your new ritual and decide whether you want to retain it and/or introduce another practice.
4. Create or expand on a gratitude journal. Based on the day’s events, write down specific things that you are grateful for. It’s helpful to assign yourself a consistent number of items (anywhere between 3 and 10 is a good start) and a time of day when you record your thoughts. Some people make a rule that they will not repeat items from day to day, so that they are always on the look-out for new blessings. If you already keep a gratitude journal, how might you enhance this practice? Could you be more rigorous or regular with your entries? You might decide to keep a second journal, with a narrower focus. For example, if you dislike your current job, keep a gratitude journal specifically about your work. Or, if you are fearful about money, keep a gratitude journal with regard to “provision.”
5. Deliberately do the opposite of complaining, as you see it: Praise, thank, notice what’s working, encourage, consider another person’s difficulties, offer to help, be patient, lower your expectations, deny your entitlement, count your blessings, make a clear request, find the humor. Consider: what, in fact, is the opposite of complaining for you?
6. Per Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Pastor Will Bowen, initiate a ta’anis krechtzin – a complaint fast – for anywhere from 24 hours to 21 days. Choose deliberately and in advance how you will fill the time (minutes? hours? days?) formerly taken up by complaining.
7. Every time you write a letter of complaint or make a call complaining, write or phone at least once to praise someone’s good work and thank people for it. Have you ever tried this or a similar practice? With what results?
Thanksgiving is a significant theme on our six CD's. Debra's newest album is a double-CD entitled Gratitude, These are the teachings and inspirations to get if you want to fully feel and take all the blessings thare are, or could be, available to you.
Gratitude has been shown to have the following effects in recent studies: "higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. [People practicing gratitude exercises] experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others. They exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. Gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people, since one act of gratitude encourages another.” In other words, science and religion agree: gratitude makes you happy!
The opening track on Transformation Now , “Why We Are Here,” reminds us that gratitude is intimately tied up with knowing our purpose. Later tracks on that same CD show us why – and how – to be grateful for our free will choices, the lessons we had to learn the hard way, and even people who try our patience.
Awe Always cultivates not only reverence for the way we use our time, but gratitude for the time we are granted. It also explores what we really mean when we give thanks to God.
Compassion Constantly teaches gratitude for life, and finding blessing even in crisis. Others may seem to “have it all,” but be grateful for your lot and don’t engage in negative comparisons, for, as this CD teaches at the most profound level, “you never really know what another person is going through.”
Reb Zalman’s CD’s offer stunning examples of gratitude, from the opening Halleluyah of Reb Zalman Prays to the life-changing perspective on synagogue honors offered on Reb Zalman Teaches.
If you haven’t yet ordered these CD’s for yourself, click here. If you have, you may want to listen again, with an ear attuned to Thanksgiving. CD’s make wonderful Hanukah gifts.