Cultivating gratitude is one area of mindfulness, that some people, including myself, can find difficult. The formal practice that helps us to develop our sense of gratitude is often called “metta bhavana” or “loving kindness”. In the beginning, I used the practice very rarely. It’s now one of my favourites and I want to share it with you so you can try it too. Let me know what you think.
As I progressed with my practice, I began to realise that Loving Kindness very quickly complimented my other formal meditations. I became more aware of my self-judgements and just how strong my emotions could be when faced with situations that required a little more self-love or love for others.
With further reading and practice, I can now recommend the loving-kindness meditation as a fantastic way to cultivate gratitude and positivity.
It has helped me consider more challenging thoughts in a different light and also appreciate external challenges more.
In essence, practising loving-kindness and cultivating gratitude teaches us something about ourselves. As we become more aware of our responses to stress and challenge, we can learn to mentally distance ourselves, developing more clarity and positivism.
Why cultivate gratitude?
I’m going to explain more about how gratitude can help you in your daily practice and how you can trigger gratitude with some pretty simple and enjoyable techniques.
First, here are three reasons why you should introduce Metta Bhavana to your life.
#1 It increases positive emotions
If you’re looking to boost your happiness and well-being, loving-kindness meditation could be just the practice for you.
Practising Loving Kindness Meditation regularly can increase multiple positive emotions including love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe.
These positive emotions can have a ripple effect on those practising the meditation. This also extends to those we bring to mind during the meditation. I found, that by simply seeing all of our connections as human beings, I began to make even the most challenging of people less problematic. This greatly reduced my stress response towards them.
#2 It quiets your inner critic
We all have our internal critic and near-constant chatter that goes on inside our minds. This is such a common behaviour and one we can manage. For many of us, this voice inside our heads can be very highly charged and influential upon our actions and emotions. By taking time to bring positive affirmation and loving kindness to ourselves often, this inner voice eventually looses power and no longer becomes our focus.
Beyond reducing self-criticism we can experience improvements in self-compassion and positive emotions. We can learn to be more empathetic to others and less judgemental of ourselves.
#3 It can increase your capacity for empathy
Regularly practising Loving Kindness Meditation has been shown to activate and strengthen areas of the brain responsible for empathy. One of the most important benefits of empathy is that it improves relationships. Increased empathy can also lead to more compassionate action and a greater sense of altruism.
My loving-kindness practice
Here are the steps I recommend to anyone who wants to cultivate gratitude in their lives through mindfulness meditation. I have been working with my amazing group of mindful practitioners on loving-kindness this month. You will find my guided Metta Bhavana at the bottom of this page and I’ll be posting about the shared experiences of the group in time.
Step 1 Acknowledge Your Worthiness
One of the reasons we tend to lean away from positivity, instead of leaning into it, is that we struggle with our worthiness. Do we deserve joy? The answer is yes.
You are a human being and you are worthy of feeling joy.
Find space in your day or week to remind yourself that you are enough. That you are unique and special. Put a reminder on your phone, leave yourself a note on the fridge or make it part of your morning or evening routines. But tell yourself daily that you are enough and you are worthy of happiness.
Step 2 Stop the comparison game
We can be happy for the successes of others without belittling our own. It’s important to realize that we only see the best of other people’s daily lives, we know our own daily struggles much more intimately. So it’s never a fair comparison.
Step 3 Diarise your gratitude
Writing down what you are grateful for can help to remind you of all the blessings in your life that you may take for granted. Including awareness of everyday successes or blessings in your daily journal will naturally change how you start to value these experiences.
My wife started the “thankful” jar a couple of years ago. We fill it as the year goes on. Taking a piece of paper and just writing down what we are thankful for in that moment.
At the end of each year, we open it and begin making our way through these amazing moments, deepening our connection and gratitude for each other.
Step 4 Write a thank you note
Birthdays and weddings aside, when was the last time you took time out to say thank you. It doesn’t need to be a card. A text, a note on a colleague’s desk, telling people that we appreciate them makes the person receiving the note feel good – and we get to experience those feelings of gratitude too.
Step 5 Practice Metta Bhavana
When you cultivate gratitude, you’re able to feel true happiness and contentment. Through practising the Metta Bhavana or Loving Kindness meditation, we touch the sense of shared humanity in all living beings. We’re tapping into a fundamental shared desire. We all want to be happy.
May you be well, may you be happy, and may you free from suffering