Listening to the radio the other day I heard a man describe an organization he created called “The Cloud Appreciation Society” (Listen to this TED Radio Talk Here.) He told about how he and a small group of people often took time to stop and admire clouds in all their billowy, feathery, transitory beauty. That simple act brought them greater well-being and contentment. This reminded me of how taking stock of beauty, love, purpose and process can be a powerful anti-depressant. It is noticing that is the catalyst.
We don’t need to have material wealth to be thankful. In fact, after our basic needs for warmth, food and safety are met, more possessions usually don’t make much difference in overall happiness, according to folks who research such things. It is instead, the quality of our relationships and our ability to focus on the sweetness and beauty in life that determines mood and thus our sense of overall well-being. (Read about some of the research on gratitude here. )
But many of us only notice what is wrong. We may have a negative mental filter. This way of seeing the world and ourselves keeps out the positive and our attention stays on what is difficult, uncomfortable, anxiety provoking, or mistakes we or others have made. This keeps us locked in depression, anger, anxiety and fear.
One way to work with a negative mental filter is to pay attention to the clouds. In other words, look for and highlight the good things, the beautiful things, in your life. They can be simple. For example, whenever I go for a walk I think of how well my body still functions, how it moves me from point A to point B, and how much it has been through and yet keeps going.
Or it could be like yesterday, while waiting for my son in a grocery store parking lot. I watched the sun set in a burst of orange and gold striated clouds, and thought how lucky I was to catch those ribbons of color at a time when I had nothing else to do but drink it in.
When I step into a warm shower after a long, tiring day, I am grateful for the abundance of water I have at my disposal and how good it feels to stand under a warm cascade of it. And at night when I snuggle up against my partner’s body and hear the rhythm of his breathing, I notice how safe and how loved I feel and am filled with gratitude.
In this time of year, when we are asked to pause and celebrate Thanksgiving, it is also a good time to begin a year-round practice of gratitude. Being grateful on a regular basis just might change your life. Here are some ways to begin:
1. Be mindful. Notice what is happening around you and find something to appreciate. Really pay attention to all the details of what is happening, of what you see or what you are doing. Be in the present moment.
2. Keep a gratitude journal or list. Every day at the about the same time, take five minutes to write down what you are grateful for. You may be surprised at the power of this one small change in shifting your mood and outlook.
3. Say thank you. Express your gratitude to people you care about. Do it in writing, in person, by text. Catch your children being good. Catch yourself being good.
4. Share some of what is good in your life. If it is possible for you to write a check to an organization you believe in, do it. If not, find some other way to be generous. When we share, we feel more prosperous and sharing highlights the abundance in our lives whether it be money, time, talent or skill.
5. Make a choice to notice the positive in people around you. Yes, that irritating thing your friend or co-worker, or partner does will still be there, but what about the way he always wishes you a good day, or how she knows when to give you space and when to offer a hug. Pay more attention to those kinds of things. Pay more attention to the clouds.
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Cloud Watching.