Gratitude – Learning to Appreciate Ourselves
The art of showing gratitude or appreciation – It comes from deep inside us, but we talk about it like it’s something outside of, separate, from ourselves.
We’re told to have gratitude for things – such as food or shelter, or for people – such as family or spiritual leaders, or for opportunities – such as work or school.
We’re told “be grateful” or “always show gratitude” like it’s our job – not like gratitude is a gift
What would happen, I wonder, if we showed more gratitude for ourselves?
What would happen if we were taught to appreciate what we are, and what we do, not just for what we have, or what we are given?
Instead, we’re taught that putting ourselves first is selfish. We get messages that appreciating ourselves or acknowledging our own talents is just “tooting our own horn,” or acting like we’re “such big stuff.” The consequences of these messages, for a lot of us, is that we go the opposite way; we try to smoosh ourselves down, make ourselves as small as possible, avoid attracting attention, even positive attention.
Eventually, many of us learn to withhold positive attention from ourselves.
Yoga philosophy teaches that we’re all part of the universe, and that the universe is part of us. You can get a glimpse of what that might look like in this article from Yoga International. I think that whether you believe in one god, or multiple gods and goddesses, or Buddhist teachings, or if you believe that the world was created by the Big Bang, no divine intervention involved, you can find something of this belief in oneness in your beliefs. We’re not told what beliefs the astronaut in the article linked above holds, but we do now that his experience of seeing how giant and fast the cosmos really is affected him in a life-changing way. Maybe that was Life-changing with a capital l, or maybe, after the first burst of wonder, it settled down into something more subtle. Either way, we can guess that his experience of the world was never quite the same, and that he
Instead of teaching us that our part in the world is insignificant, I think this expanded awareness can show us how much in and of the world we really are. (find quote from gita about recognizing the oneness of humankind)
What does all of this have to do with self-gratitude?
It’s about how we are no less important for only being one human being.
It’s the reason I’m talking about self-gratitude and not self-love.
“Love yourself” gets thrown around as an affirmation in self-help stuff all the time. It’s a beautiful sentiment, but what does it mean? How can we love ourselves if we don’t appreciate ourselves at a very basic level?
Instead of self-love, I propose self-gratitude.
So what does this mean for your yoga practice, or for how you move through the world every day?
I can’t tell you what to appreciate about yourself. I don’t know you. I don’t know the magic words that will unlock feel-good feelings.
What I can tell you is that you’re worth it.
You’re worth it because we’re all worth it.
Trying Out Self Gratitude
Some exercises for you, should you want to try this self-gratitude stuff out:
Study what you already value in yourself: Make a list of all the different ways you already appreciate yourself.
Now, make a list of all the ways you can start showing yourself appreciation
Affirmations: Some people find saying an affirmation – a word or phrase of validation, is helpful. Other folks find this a meaningless exercise that they end up doing mechanically, and that it doesn’t much impact the way they view themselves. Just know that if affirmations don’t do it for you, there’s nothing wrong with you!
If you do find affirmations useful, you might try creating an affirmation by finishing the sentence:
“I’m grateful for myself because.” Or,
“I appreciate (fill-in-the-blank) about myself.”
You might choose to say your affirmation, silently or out loud, whenever you feel unappreciated by others.
Or, you might choose to start your day with the affirmation, maybe as you’re waking up, or as you’re making breakfast.
Morning self-gratitude with your cereal, anyone.
You can explore deepening this practice by matching your breath with your affirmations.
This exercise is inspired by Eric Maisel’s Ten Zen Seconds, which has nothing to do with Zen, or with yoga either, for that matter.
As you breathe in, say the first part of your affirmation to yourself silently. As you breathe out, say the rest of the affirmation.
So, that might look like:
Inhale: “I appreciate my–”
Exhale: “–piano-playing talent.”
Inhale “I’m grateful that–”
Exhale: “–I take time for myself.”
What if you just can’t find it in yourself to show self-gratitude?
I can think of no better answer than these gorgeous words from the brilliant and wise Maya Angelou:
The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy
or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed.