A Single Practice to Change Your World
Ready to change the world? I believe I know how—and it’s simple.
Yes, gratitude. That's it! Practice gratitude daily.
Of course, this is not easy. To commit to any spiritual practice (and gratitude is a spiritual practice) requires conscious determination.
Yet the rewards of practicing gratitude on a daily basis are staggering.
I believe that if we all made a constant effort to practice gratitude, organizations and people with malicious intent would become irrelevant and begin to disappear.
Here is why:
When we practice gratitude, we become full of potential and less petty or small.
Practicing gratitude as part of our regular routine allows our lives to overflow with appreciation.
Imagine living in constant awareness of the gifts each moment presents. This awareness leads to the realization of how precious our lives truly are.
There are several ways that you can incorporate a practice of gratitude into your daily life, including:
Practice gratitude by making the commitment to say thank you at least 20 times a day to people you come across in your life.
Practice gratitude through prayer. Bring the palms of your hands together, and thank the universe for all the bounty you have.
Practice gratitude through daily acknowledgement of at least three people in your life who make a positive difference.
And, of course, there are many other ways to practice gratitude. Find the way that works best for you.
Through the practice of gratitude, we see our fellow humans as equals—travelers on the same journey. We recognize that other people struggle through life as much as we do. Through the practice of gratitude, we begin to develop and cultivate more compassion, more empathy.
We stop taking other people for granted. We stop taking our own lives for granted.
We become more generous. We become attuned to the abundance in our lives and in this world. We become aware that there is enough for everyone. Our generosity becomes woven into the fabric of who we are and flows effortlessly from within us.
So what stops us?
What stops us from truly living in our lives in gratitude?
I believe that when people are not afraid, they can be kind. We are much more generous and compassionate when we feel abundant and secure in ourselves. But most of us live in a constant state of fear; we live our lives afraid of losing what we have. And that fear makes us do a lot of crazy things.
Oftentimes, we aren’t even certain of what we’re scared of losing. We don’t realize that we have succumbed to the belief that the things we collect define who we are. Society teaches us from a young age to collect as much stuff as possible. Society tells us that having more is better. So instead of living in the abundance of life, enjoying her ever-flowing bounty, we exude the energy of a lifetime to collect things. And to hold onto them. We forget that we can’t take these things with us.
We have allowed our fear to overpower our gratitude and appreciation.
We continue to make important life decisions based on false evidence.
Instead of addressing our fears with a rational and logical mind, we seek out other people who believe that we are justified in our fears. We seek out those who also live in fear. The cycle of fear becomes addictive and all-consuming. Instead of seeking to live a life with purpose and meaning, we spend most of our time feeding our fears. We buy more stuff. Fancier stuff. We work even harder to protect our things, and to maintain an image that other people approve of. We spend more time invested in the illusion of keeping ourselves safe.
How do we overcome this? How do we get out of the rut? How do we stop the cycle and rise above our primal state of fear?
When we practice gratitude, we feel more abundant. And when we feel abundant we become less fearful. When we become less fearful, we have more time and energy to help one another.
Through gratitude we can begin to conquer fear.
Can you imagine what our communities would be like if we practiced gratitude instead of fear? Can you imagine what the world would be like?
Again, I realize practicing gratitude is not easy.
First of all, to practice gratitude requires you to become more mindful and aware. You need to say "Thank you!" And mean it!
Second, practicing gratitude requires you to step out of your comfort zone. You will need to become more vulnerable.
It takes a degree of vulnerability to say "Thank you." Appreciation expressed through gratitude only comes from an open heart. The more open your heart, the more vulnerable you become, and the more impact you will have.
Third, practicing gratitude requires humility.
Somewhere imprinted in our unconscious, we each have our own list of conditions that need to be met before we express gratitude or give praise. These individual conditions tell us when someone is “worthy” of our gratitude. They also inform us when we might lose or give away some of our “power” by giving our gratitude away.
Imagine living in constant awareness of the gifts each moment presents.
Most of us are unaware of how much of our gratitude is conditional. We offer limited appreciation only when our expectations are met. And even then we seldom express it.
Often, we’re just not able to say “Thank you!” and really mean it.
Often, the gratitude we do express is not sincere. We say “Thank you” because it fits our image of what a “good person” would do.
Practicing sincere gratitude can make us humble.
Recently, while leading the One-Month Immersion Teacher Training at Blue Osa in Costa Rica, I gave the students a practice: for one day they were to express gratitude to six people. Only six people.
There were so many people they could have expressed gratitude to. Three people cleaned their rooms every day. Five people cooked their meals. They were surrounded by fellow teacher trainees.
The next day I asked how many people had done the practice.
I asked them to recommit once again to do the practice that day. I returned the following day and asked how many people had completed the practice.
To witness the inability of people, especially yogis, to express gratitude was horrifying.
It made me acutely aware of how entitled we have become. Unconsciously, or consciously, we believe that we are entitled to receive all that we have received. This notion, conscious or unconscious, ends up making us weaker and more petty. This sense of entitlement damages our relationships and turns us into selfish people.
Think about it for a moment. Think about your day and all the things you feel entitled to have.
Food in front of you.
A roof over your head.
A place to sleep every night.
Now imagine that you don't have those things.
You can't. Because somewhere within you, you know you should have them. You have had them your whole life, so why shouldn't you have them now? You believe you are entitled to them.
How can we practice gratitude when we feel entitled to so much?
It is impossible to practice gratitude, to feel gratitude, or to give gratitude when we feel entitled.
And in reading this, some of you might argue that you are entitled to these very basic needs, which goes right to my point. Even if you are entitled, because these are basic needs, over half of the world’s population does not have these basic needs met. Over one billion people don’t even make $1 a day.
We are so lucky to have what we have. Providence has gifted us so much. But so many of us have become blind to the abundance of life that is flowing eternally to us.
We have been conditioned to believe we are “owed” things. And maybe we are and maybe we aren’t. But the fact is that if you are on a computer, tablet, or smartphone reading this, you have so much more that most of the world’s population. And yet, how often do we complain that we don’t have enough?
Complaining makes us weak. Complaining makes us petty. Complaining makes us emotionally unstable. Complaining makes us blind to how rich and beautiful our lives are.
Instead of using all of the tools abundance has afforded us, we complain about what we don’t have. We blame the world for not living up to our expectations.
But the solution is so simple. You can easily reverse this chain reaction toward weakness, selfishness, and emotional instability by practicing two simple words.
Saying “Thank you!” breaks this self-indulgent cycle that we have gotten into. Saying “Thank you!” will open our eyes to the richness of life and the generosity of humanity. Saying “Thank you!” makes us better and more enjoyable people to be around.
So now, let's get back to changing the world. There are groups of people all over the world, organizations like ISIS, who want us to feel FEAR. News organizations who feed into our cycles of fear to get us to tune in to their programs. And governments or politicians who activate our tendencies toward fear in the hope that we will place greater trust in them. They want us to turn on our neighbors and communities. They want to stir up the worst tendencies in us.
But by going back to a real and authentic practice of gratitude, fear will loosen its grip on us.
Don't believe that gratitude is the key to defeating ISIS? To changing the world?
You will never know until you give this practice a sincere, ardent effort.
What I can promise is that if you practice gratitude wholeheartedly for 30 days (perhaps in the form of one of the three practices I mentioned earlier), your life will change. You will experience an abundance of generosity and peace flowing from and to you. You will live your life to the fullest.
Let us change the world together—let us begin with GRATITUDE.
Yogi Aaron, author of "Autobiography of a Naked Yogi,” brings passion and adventure to his teaching. Inspired, he guides students to secret and far-flung locales, empowers them to realize their own limitless potential, and makes yoga relevant and accessible for the modern world. Since 2002, he has been traveling and leading retreats worldwide, and currently serves as the yoga director at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa in Costa Rica. Follow Yogi Aaron on Facebook.