So how was 5777? (This was the Jewish Year that ended at Sundown on September 20th, 2017). Was it a good or bad year? How can you tell? For most people, I suspect 5777 had both the good and the bad. Sometimes there were overwhelming moments of joy or sadness that can color our perception of the whole year. Overall, I feel like 5777 was a pretty good year for me, despite many things going on in the world that are pretty sucky. I decided to stop trying to fit the year on a scale from good to bad, and instead do a Mussar Gratitude practice. Gratitude could change your life.
Will you join me in taking the 15 minute Gratitude challenge? Carve out 15 minutes for yourself, and sit with a journal or a piece of paper. Start a timer, and write down everything in your life that you are grateful for. I did this a few minutes ago, and it was absolutely transformative. Before I started, I reviewed some key teachings about Gratitude that helped me a great deal.
Mussar teaches that Gratitude is the ability to recognize the good in any situation, and to give thanks. Thus, we are enjoined to be grateful for both good and bad things that happen to us. The latter can be a challenge. For example, when we are in shock over unexpectedly losing our job, and the mortgage payment is coming due, it may be hard to feel grateful. With the fullness of time we may end up with a better job, or being home may allow us to reconnect with our friends and family. Thus, in the moment, we can be grateful that we have an opportunity to spend our time doing other things. In addition, Mussar teaches us to be grateful for inanimate things. For example, right now I am Grateful to the nice lazy boy that supports me in comfort as I write to you. Not only that, I nap regularly in this chair with a cat on my lap.
In the 11th century Mussar classic Duties of the Heart, Rabbi ibn Paquda teaches that there are three things that keep us from being grateful.
- We become too occupied with material things. For example, we want the very latest iPhone, and forget how useful the version we already have is.
- We take things for granted. Here, we fail to recognize the bounty of everyday blessings, like a comfortable bed, a safe neighborhood, and being alive.
- We focus on the negative. We tend to focus on mistakes people make, and the small hurts we receive from loved ones, and don’t notice the positives they do for us.
Before you start, write the three barriers to gratitude at the top of your paper. Then write down the three categories of things we should be grateful for. As a reminder they are:
- Good things
- Bad things (by finding the good in them)
- Inanimate things
Then, start the clock and write your list of things to be grateful for. As you are working on your list, try to overcome each of the objections, and remember to write down things in each of the categories to be grateful for. Don’t stop writing until the timer reaches 15 minutes. Some people find it very hard to write for the entire time. Frankly, this is what I expected to happen to me.
In contrast, I was quite amazed to discover that at 15 minutes, I wasn’t done. I kept writing for another ten minutes! In those final minutes, I started to feel a sense of calm, peace, and fulfillment. I was amazed, because prior the the exercise I was feeling a bit restless and fretful. When I was done, I was filled with energy and confidence. I still feel the residue of the experience a day later.
So has that changed my life? Heck Yah! Even had I only felt those positive feelings for part of a day, that in itself is life changing. Yes, making your today better is life changing. And I have the opportunity to keep making my today better each and every day. Beyond that, I know that I filled almost four pages in my journal of things to be grateful for. When I have such abundance in my life, it is hard to worry about the small things. And when I suffer a setback, I know that I have a wealth of things to be grateful for in other areas, to give me strength and help me through.
So, do you agree that 15 minutes of Gratitude could change your life?
Will you join me? Comment below me and let me know how it goes.
PS I am very Grateful to you for being a part of this community. I wish you all the best for 5778.
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An earlier version of this post was published in January 2016