By now, most of us have heard about the benefits of practicing gratitude: increased happiness, greater life satisfaction, stronger immunity, and less anxiety, to name a few (important) ones. While we all know that gratitude is good for us, why do we sometimes find it so difficult to feel or express gratefulness in our day-to-day lives? How can we better cultivate our feelings of gratitude?
One of the people we are grateful for is Gonzalo, one of our former students who regularly inspires us to keep practicing and continue the work we do. Gonzalo grew up in a neighborhood in South Los Angeles where multiple gangs were actively recruiting when he was in middle school.
“I believe now, that to face problems outside in the world, you first have to face them within yourself, and Tools for Peace helped me achieve that through meditation.”
“At the time, I could not imagine myself beyond the grasp of violence. I could not see anything else. This was a point where graduating middle-school seemed less and less possible; let alone high school, and college was not even an option.”
Gonzalo said that he did not have the tools necessary to look beyond his circumstances. “I had never been exposed to thinking internally. I would swallow my emotions, and they would accumulate over time. I had little control over my thoughts and actions, and even more difficulty seeing the good in my life” he explained. But once he was introduced to mindfulness and meditation, Gonzalo says that his outlook began to change.
“I had a mentor in my community who noticed I was struggling with confidence and the motivation to go to school, and she helped me receive a scholarship to the Tools for Peace Summer Teen Camp. The camp introduced me to mindfulness and meditation. To me, mindfulness is like a checklist that I go through to notice what is going on with myself and the people around me and to recognize that we are all in the same boat,” he said.
As Gonzalo began practicing mindfulness and meditation, he was able to broaden his perspective, and ultimately, transform his life.
“I was able to get distance from my emotions and started taking stock of the positive aspects of my life. I believe now, that to face problems outside in the world, you first have to face them within yourself, and Tools for Peace helped me achieve that through meditation. It opened up a whole new world for me. Now, I no longer see my community as a negative place, filled with people trying to cause harm. I see it as a place of potential. A place where positivity is possible. Where success is possible,”said Gonzalo, who is now attending college and working as a camp counselor at the Tools for Peace Summer Teen Camp.
“Gratitude has helped me. It makes the big things like problems into little things. And it takes little things, like a small act of kindness, and amplifies it to give it greater value.”
Practicing the Gratitude meditation, said Gonzalo, was an essential part of seeing this potential, both in himself and his community.
“It’s easy to take for granted the positive things and get overwhelmed by challenges when you are habituated to a routine, especially if you feel limited in your possibilities. Taking time to focus on gratitude has helped me. It makes the big things like problems into little things. And it takes little things, like a small act of kindness, and amplifies it to give it greater value. It has helped me recognize my own inner resources, as well as external support that help me to accomplish my goals,” said Gonzalo.
So how can you introduce mindfulness and gratitude into your life? The practice of mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to what is happening in the moment, and observing what’s going on inside (your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations) and outside (your interactions and surroundings) with an open mind and without judging. With some practice, you can create the mental space to see and appreciate the more positive aspects of your life. Seeing and rejoicing in even small glimmers of the positive can slowly change your whole way of thinking.
If you would like to focus on strengthening your “attitude of gratitude”, start by trying the Stop, Breathe, & Think Gratitude guided meditation for free at http://app.stopbreathethink.org/. (There is also a longer version of the meditation available in our app Store when you want to deepen your practice.)
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