Most of us love surprises. A beautiful box under the tree at Christmas time will bring exclamations of awe and joy. A thoughtful card from a friend sent without any particular reason will elicit a smile on our faces. But how many of us stay awake enough to notice all the surprises that greet us each day? According to a friend of mine, it took his travel to a Scandinavian country for a year to notice upon his return the birds that sang all the time in his native India. It is easy to habituate to those little things that surround us all the time.
Spring is a good time to become aware of such surprises. For example, having more daylight each day as the sun begins its travels back to the northern hemisphere. Yesterday as I left my office, I noticed that it was still light outside and just this little change lifted my spirits. Taking a walk, I noticed daffodils starting to show their yellow heads and crocuses that added purples and yellows to the landscape. These small but not unexpected occurrences can come as a surprise when we stop taking for granted the environment around us and just notice it as if for the first time.
The practice of gratitude involves a three step process that helps us to really notice what is around us. The first is to wake up. Just to ask ourselves several times a day, “Isn’t this surprising?” begins to orient us to being alive in our life rather than walking through our life in a hypnotic trance. Surprise is not always good but even with pain or disappointment there can be a gift if we are awake to the experience. Awareness helps us to see the opportunity in each occurrence so that we can respond fully to it. We can also take the opportunity to respond in a grateful manner. For example, recently I tore a ligament in my knee. Through the pain of learning to walk normally again, I experienced how complicated this “simple” act truly is. I felt like a baby learning how to take her first steps. Now I take joy in being able to walk without a limp.
David Steindl-Rast suggests this simple process in order to cultivate gratefulness in our lives:
“My simple recipe for a joyful day is this: stop and wake up; look and be aware of what you see; then go on with all the alertness you can muster for the opportunity the moment offers.”
We really do have as many things to be grateful for as we have to complain about. It is just that we start to take those things for granted quicker than we do the ones that are irritating. A good practice is to record in a journal at the end of the day all those things that surprised you that day and for which you are grateful. If you follow these simple steps, you will find that you experience more happiness no matter what life gives you that day.
Resources: David Steindl-Rast: Essential Writings, Edited by Clare Hallward
A Blessing in Disguise, Edited by Andrea Joy Cohen, M.D.
Sacred Necessities: gifts for living with passion, purpose & grace, Terry Hershey