GK Chesterton wrote, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Wonder. When did we lose our wonder at the world around us? Would you agree that we live in a time where much of what should be held in wonder, is simply taken for granted?

Wonder is defined as “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable” in the dictionary. In researching an idea for an article about gratitude, I stumbled across this supposition that gratitude is a result of our ability to see the world through a lens of wonder. Mind blown. I’m a peel-the-onion girl, so I really like to get to the heart of a problem, and I would dare say that taking things for granted is quite possibly the opposite of living in a state of wonder, making it quite difficult to develop an attitude of daily gratitude. 

Why have we tended towards taking the wonder of our world for granted? For many of us today, our lives are without precedence in terms of ease and pace and instant gratification. The conclusion of this state of affairs is that we ultimately also live in a very comparison-oriented existence, oftentimes ending up rather disappointed with our personal circumstances. Let me give an example from the middle school age group. “Why can’t I have a phone, Mom? All of my friends have phones? I’m like the ONLY one without a phone!” Wait, what? Wouldn’t it be much more impressive if that same child said this, “Mom, I have a huge appreciation for the advancement in technology that is the smart phone, and I believe it will help us stay connected while I’m at school, it will help me stay safe, and I am willing to help earn this privilege.” This may seem completely unrealistic to us to ask of our babies, but I am suggesting that we work towards encouraging this mindset with ourselves, our children, our students, our spouses, everyone really. Let’s get back to wonder.  

Science supports the causal relationship between a grateful mindset and our physical well being.  In other words, gratefulness serves a person well across a multitude of challenges. Studies show that people practicing a mindset of gratefulness are more purpose driven, they sleep better, are more motivated, have better health. They experience reduced stress. They are less sad.  

The Latin word for gratitude is gratus, meaning thankful or pleasing. In order to be thankful for a thing, we first sort of subconsciously recognize the thing’s value to us, its benefit, its joy-producing quality. Every morning I look out my daughters’ bedroom window to see Pikes Peak during the sunrise hour. I do this daily. Every. Single. Morning. Depending on snow, and lighting, and cloud coverage, that mountain can look different every day. It is a wonder to me. I am grateful for that mountain. I’m less grateful for the errands I’ll have to run that day, or the morning chaos, or the potential for mama drama. But if I can take a minute to flip my outlook, can’t I still find wonder in the ability to run all over town in an hour because of having a vehicle? Can’t I look with wonder at my children who are healthy, developing, curious, funny creatures that still talk to me? Can’t I appreciate the friendships of like-minded mamas who are vulnerable and asking for advice? Flipping the narrative in our head, and the words we choose to define a situation, changes everything. 

An important feature of gratitude cultivation is authenticity. Gratefulness only helps us in our life challenges when it is based in authenticity, versus a superficial “I know I should be grateful…” I believe we reach authentic gratefulness with the support of mantra, meditation and mindfulness. Ahhh, yoga! 

Here are some ideas on strengthening our authentic gratitude muscles. The basis for all of these suggestions is rooted in looking at the world with wonder again, and the practices are suitable for us as adults, and for our kiddos. Each is easily implemented through discussion in a yoga class, in a school classroom or at home around the dinner table.  

Gratitude journaling: I’ve read about the ritualistic daily habit of writing three sources of gratitude, and how the practice can feel like a chore, and may not last. So, I would encourage you to just simply use your planner, or a jar to collect your daily appreciations, and don’t force yourself to do it. Do it when you feel it. At the end of the year, reflect on your collection. It’s a gorgeous practice of remembrance and respect.

Say it out loud: When you see, experience or receive something that lights up your day, express your gratitude for it loudly, and repeat it. There is cerebral science behind verbalizing our thoughts, and repeating them. Like literally, there is an observable brain reaction to doing this!

Think about it: If you are prone to overwhelm, or letting the day get away, I would also encourage you to be mindful about how you start/end your day. Put things in front of yourself that visually bring wonder to your soul. The sunrise or sunset. A special quotation. Pictures on your phone. Find something that works for you.

These practices may help us form habits, which help change our outlook on the mundane, the conveniences that are easily taken for granted. They help us to look afresh on the world around us, and find wonder in just about everything.  And gratitude is the gift of wonder. 

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