How much of your day do you live in response to requests from others?
Most of us wake up thinking about how we are going to meet obligations and fulfill promises to other people. We begin our day in response mode and remain that way until it’s time to go to bed. In contrast, philosophers, religious leaders, and teachers have taught us for thousands of years to begin our day by expressing and feeling gratitude for everything and everyone we have in our lives.
Start with Awe
For twelve years I have begun my day with the same positive ritual. I wake up and head for the nearest window. I open the curtain and look outside. I begin by observing something in the environment that fascinates me. I immerse myself in the wonder and awe of something that I cannot explain; this first step in my morning ritual reminds me that the world is much bigger than my life and my concerns.
University of Virginia Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of the Happiness Hypothesis, and Dacher Keltner, University of California-Berkeley Psychology professor, wrote about awe in Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman’s book, Character Strengths and Virtue, “People consistently report that experiences of awe and elevation have profound outcomes, motivating self-improvement, personal change, altruistic intentions and actions, and the devotion to others and the larger community.”My Mom grew up in Maine and often reflects on the beauty of nature. She once said to me, “Think of the beauty of maple trees. The same force that makes sap run up a tree from its roots to its trunk, against gravity, is the same force that resides inside of you.” Mom made her point by gently poking me in the gut and saying, “It’s right there; connect to it.” No matter where I am I start my day with a moment of awe. When I’m at home, I look at the ocean. When I’m at a hotel, I look at tall buildings. When I’m in Maine, I look at trees. Wherever I am there is always something interesting to draw my attention. Each time I look out my window I appreciate the fact that the universe does not revolve around me; it includes me.
Proceed to Gratitude
The second step of my morning ritual focuses on gratitude. I say everything for which I am grateful. My list includes being grateful for a new day, the sleep I had the night before, my health, my family (by name), my close friends (by name), my key supporters in business (by name), and important opportunities professionally and personally. I make it a habit of visualizing the people and things as I say them; I want to keep these images fresh in my mind.
Psychology professor at Eastern Washington University Phillip Watkins and his colleagues found in their research that “…grateful individuals have a sense of abundance. Grateful individuals appreciate the common everyday pleasures of life…grateful individuals appreciate the contribution of others to their well-being.”
My morning ritual of gratitude and awe helps me transition from a night of sleep to a new day of possibility. Huston Smith, professor of Religion and Philosophy at Syracuse University, wrote that “a ritual can smooth life’s transition as can perhaps nothing else. But it also serves another function; namely to intensify appreciation and crown man’s joy with celebration.”
Every day is a new opportunity. What would happen if you started each day with a little awe and gratitude? This positive ritual could change your life.
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, H. (1970). Religions of Man. HarperCollins.
Sugar maple leaves courtesy of massmarrier
Tapping a sugar maple courtesy of Kyle MacDonald