It’s only fitting that as we start a new year we also turn the page on any lingering frustrations and complaints we may have about the year that has just ended.

Because we have the power to choose how to view the events of our lives, we can also leave behind whatever stress and disappointments 2014 may have brought our way. We can experience the joy of starting completely anew, and start taking action toward our goals with fresh optimism. How fortunate we are to have the “excuse” of a brand new year starting, to support us in approaching the future with a clean slate!

For that reason, this month I am focusing on Gratitude.

What does it mean to be grateful? What does gratitude feel like? How do you connect the word “grateful” to a feeling, and even a state of being? There is a lot of talk during the holiday season about gratitude. We’re told to “be grateful for small things,” for the love we have in our lives, for our health, and even for simple things like a beautiful sunrise or sunset.

But how can we connect to this grateful feeling more often? Most people feel continually bogged down with daily stresses and tensions, so gratitude for the small things feels fleeting at best. The sensation of gratitude is not something we feel as connected to emotionally as we think we should. For example, many of us imagine that being appropriately grateful for everything good in our lives means we should consistently feel joyful and peaceful, no matter what happens during our day.

People know they want to feel this, and they feel disappointed, ashamed or guilty when they don’t feel it – or whatever it is they think gratitude is supposed to feel like. This of course then contributes to persistent feelings of inadequacy, interfering even more with achieving the desired “zen-like” state of gratitude – what a conundrum!

If this sounds like you, here’s some good news: starting today, and from now on, you will have a way of freeing yourself from that conundrum, by following these five steps:

  1. Remember that gratitude starts as awareness. In the moment that something feels good to you, or sometimes just slightly thereafter, you have an “aha” moment. That’s the instant of awareness – first of the pleasant sensation that something good has happened, attached to the recognition of what it was that made you feel it.Maybe you felt it when you were snuggling under the covers in your warm bed on a cold winter morning. Perhaps you were sitting in front of a crackling fire while snow was falling outside. You might have been sitting on a beautiful beach watching the turquoise water lap the shore. You might feel good curled up on the couch reading a book. Do you remember a truly magnificent meal? Any of these moments might evoke feelings within you that are warm, comforting, relaxing or joyful. These moments are the ones that you might feel grateful for even long after, when you stop and remember them or relate them to a friend.
  2. Stop for a moment and allow yourself to reflect. Focus on a moment in the past that you really enjoyed. Allow yourself to go back to that moment in time when, if only for that moment, you were completely and fully there. Bring in each of your senses: breathe in the aromas of that moment, taste it, see where you were, hear the sounds, and feel the warmth flow through your body.
  3. Recall all the sensations vividly. Just sit and connect to that time and place. Re-live that moment as accurately and in as much detail as you possibly can. Connect to how good it felt, and notice where in your body you feel the feelings most strongly. Breathe into that space and let the feeling grow. Breathe slowly and deeply, just focusing on that special moment.
  4. Just be present. Bask in the memory and the sensations for several minutes. Part of what made that moment special (even if you didn‘t know it then) was that nothing else existed in that moment. You were totally present. That’s the sensation of gratitude – it doesn’t have to be a big brass band, or a huge victory after a long struggle. Just being completely present to a sensation of contentment when something good was happening to or around you.
  5. Write it down. Now that you have brought that moment back to life, put pen to paper and memorialize it in writing. Include as much detail as you can remember. Putting it down on paper validates it, and helps make the memory more readily accessible later, when you find yourself in a moment of stress, challenge or disappointment and need to connect to your own feelings of gratitude.

There are times when we all need a reminder. Now you know how to create a great one for yourself, anywhere and any time you need it!

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