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How to Use Gratitude to Stay in the Present Moment

Training yourself to savor gratefulness is one way to help stay present.

Key points

  • Stop-based gratitude moments can help you stay grounded in the present moment.
  • Gratitude is felt similarly across people of all faiths, ethnicities, and cultures, making it understood universally.
  • Three steps to gaining a solid gratitude practice include: showing gratitude for your environment, oneself, and life's multiple stages.
Bodhio Foundation/Pexels
Source: Bodhio Foundation/Pexels

Physical, emotional, social, and mental well-being can feel as if they fluctuate from day to day. What can stay consistent—with practice—is gratitude for what (or who) is around and inside us.

The benefits of gratitude extend into helping you feel grounded in the present moment. Indeed, “A joyful life is a life filled with moments in which one’s heart is filled with gratitude.” What’s best is that this practice of gratitude is free and within our ability to maintain if we train ourselves to use it as often as possible.

In his Ted Talk, Brother David Steindl-Rast describes the “stop signs” that we should build into our lives in order to pause and give thanks in our hearts. Such “stops” can be mentally built into the day during meals, during showers, before sleep, upon waking, or at any other time we recognize something of value before us.

The collection of all these stop-based gratitude moments can truly leave a lasting impact on our well-being.

True, when circumstances are tough, debilitating, or devastating, our moods quickly shift, perhaps to sad or angry. Yet in these circumstances, the mind that searches for what is still positive can bring solace and comfort in the heart. This mind-gratitude-heart connection is fundamental to a satisfying life, even amidst tremendously difficult circumstances.

The mind-gratitude-heart connection is felt across people of all faiths, ethnicities, and cultures. The ability to share in our expression of gratitude is a blessing as it is understood universally. We can all benefit from gratitude and its ability to help us stay in the present moment.

Bringing attention to the positive quickly engages the mind with the present. It is as if the limbic system, responsible for our emotions, becomes fine-tuned when the mind says: “How nice that…” or “What’s great is…” The end result is a happy memory. In that moment where we scan our environment and find the littlest or biggest thing to be grateful for, and savor the feeling, a joyful memory is stored in our minds and even looked back on joyfully.

It’s easy to forget the good around us and get lost in what’s unpleasant instead. Self-care may be difficult with kids; expressing our emotions may be challenging; moving on from the past may feel impossible. In these most difficult times, scanning the environment for what is still helpful or good and feeling gratitude for it can be the key to overcoming such obstacles. Routinely doing so is the key to a happy living.

What are some steps to gaining a solid gratitude practice?

  1. Three times a day, scan your immediate environment for two things (or people) that you are grateful for. Give thanks in your mind for these. Savor the feeling for several seconds. Eventually, such moments will feel blissful.
  2. For a brief moment, forget about everything else around you, the past, and the future. Think about one thing that you love about yourself. Think about how much you love this trait about yourself. Savor the feeling for several seconds. Eventually, such seconds will feel like reliable, undeniable self-love (a gratitude practice for oneself).
  3. For a brief moment, forget about the past and consider where you want to be or what you want to achieve in five to ten years. Think about how good reaching that next stage will feel. Savor the feeling for several seconds. Eventually, such envisioning will feel like you are constructing a future for yourself (a gratitude practice for life and all its stages). Remember, this step doesn’t mean you’re forgetting to be grateful for where you are now (practiced in step one) or that you’re not staying in the present moment. Rather, it instills hope for the future, which can be motivational, inspiring, as well as add meaning and value to the present moment.

Once present, blissful moments become building blocks to a satisfying life, you can rest assured a gratitude practice has worked (and is still working!) its wonders for you. Indeed, you will then have mastered one of life’s most precious arts that is free and within everyone’s grasp.