How do you most often think about thankfulness?
Around this time of year, we often have images of families giving thanks around a big meal being served. It’s an image of peace and connection with our families, which is a great thing!
But I want to suggest a non-traditional approach to a practice in gratitude that you may not have considered before.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, insomnia or anxiety might awaken us, and we find it difficult to go back to sleep. Our minds want to gear up, get productive, or solve problems currently happening in our lives.
In a way, sleep requires letting go, and that’s hard for some individuals. So, rather than attempting to wrangle the racing thoughts, which often fails to bring peaceful results, we can redirect our thoughts and be intentional about what our mind focuses on. How is this done?
Similar to the old concept of counting sheep, we can begin to slowly deepen our breathing and then identify and name the small and large blessings in our life. There are several benefits to this process:
- First, it shifts the mind’s volume of generated thoughts to focus on specific things. It also distracts from stress or worry to a more relaxed state. The mind’s relaxation will follow throughout in the body.
- Secondly, we always have blessings around or in our difficulties that we easily overlook or take for granted. Identifying those is like mining for gold. Our minds are conditioned to go toward the negative, but we can override that impulse and seek out aspects of our life that are positive.
Let’s look at a practical example of using this method when your sleep is otherwise disturbed. Pretend you have a big presentation tomorrow. You wake up in the middle of the night and your mind wants to start reviewing your notes, or wondering how listeners will respond, etc.. Immediately, take some deep breaths and begin to practice gratitude. Tell yourself things like: “I am grateful I was asked to do this presentation,” “I’m grateful that I have the knowledge to share on this topic,” or “I am grateful I have an opportunity for influencing others with my knowledge.”
Identifying blessings around difficult circumstances is key to shifting our perspective out of an anxious state. Obviously, the more we utilize this practice in daytime or nighttime, a more positive habit will arise.
Besides relaxation, this method of practicing gratitude can stimulate hope and faith in God that He can use to shine in and through us. As we read in 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
For more peace in our life overall, we might consider expanding our image of giving thanks only at the dinner table to recalling the blessings in our life—even while in our beds as we [attempt to] sleep.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order,
confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast,
a house into a home,
a stranger into a friend.
Gratitude makes sense of our past,
brings peace for today,
and creates a vision for tomorrow.
~ Melody Beattie