Walk No. 23: Gratitude Walk
Categories: General Excerpt Fitness & Sports Health & Healing
Walk 23: Gratitude Walk
Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.
In nearly every talk I’ve given, when asked what one thing someone could do to improve their life, my answer has been: gratitude. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. And of course this goes way beyond my words and experiences; it seems as if it’s nearly every week that science further confirms a positive health attribute, or finds a new one, linked to practicing or living in gratitude.
Just as forgiveness allows you to reclaim your wholeness, gratitude or “thankfulness” allows you to reclaim and grow your happiness. And just like forgiving, gratitude can be challenging; but I assure you that counting your blessings is a transformative practice that is well worth your investment.
A culture that does not teach us to be thankful for what we have, but rather that we will only be whole (and happy) when we have or attain more, leads to a never-ending must-have-more-to-be-more sickness that has infected so many of us.
Counting your blessings via a Gratitude Walk takes you down a very healthy road, one “thankful step” at a time. You may choose to do this walk alone or with others. Joining forces to share what we are thankful for is very powerful. Whether you are walking with your best friend, your partner, your child, your walking group, or even a stranger, sharing in this way will allow for some beautiful, heart-opening, life-affirming, happiness-hormones-releasing interactions that will elevate the already positive act of walking into a happiness-compounding, nurturing, relationship-deepening, mind-body-spirit experience that will live on long after your group walk is completed.
- Elevates your mood, increases happiness, and puts a smile on your face.
- Recenters and focuses you.
- Calms you.
- Helps you break free of toxic thoughts and emotions.
- Rewires your brain to look at things differently.
- Cultivates an appreciation for what may not have been appreciated before.
- Raises self-esteem and enhances empathy.
- Improves sleep.
- Opens you to inspiration.
- When performing this walk with others, it allows you—and perhaps your walking group or partner—to be heard, received, and appreciated.
- Shifts perspectives, deepens relationships, and cultivates a more positive outlook.
- Teaches you and your group or partner to appreciate what may have been previously overlooked.
WHEN TO DO
- When needing a mental, emotional, or spiritual lift.
- When needing to see beyond your current problems and struggles.
- When wanting to shift your mindset from negative to positive.
- When wanting to make changes for the better.
- When ready for inspiration.
- When needing to count your blessings.
- When wanting to share gratitude.
- When ready for positive change to occur.
HOW TO DO: ALONE
Choose a time and a place that are comfortable for you: a time when you won’t have to rush, and a place where you can maybe even gather a sense of peace from the surroundings. Overall, it is great if you can dedicate twenty or more minutes to walking in gratitude; this will further ensure the release of happiness hormones and uplifting neurotransmitters.
This entire walk is about engaging expressions of gratitude, many from within you, and others from the outside world. Some you will have to search for, like the elusive name of a childhood friend; some will spill right out of you; some, like a beautiful sunset, will appear before your eyes; and some, as when you realize a hurt from the past has made you stronger in the present, may take a little massaging before they land fully as something you are thankful for.
With that said, there is no getting this walk “wrong.” The very intent of walking in gratitude will benefit you.
For those who are challenged by gratitude, realize that gratitude is a muscle that, like all muscles, gets stronger, and becomes more familiar to you, through repetition. There are two main ways to perform this walk. The first is engaging the walk at a pace that is continually moving, and tying your expressions of gratitude into your steps. The second is a slower, stop-and- go, more contemplative practice; for this practice, you may wish to bring a pen and paper to jot down expressions of gratitude as you walk. I recommend the former for those who wish to establish a rhythm and pace fed by their gratitude, and I recommend the latter for those who seek a more reflective practice.
Whichever style of Gratitude Walk you choose to go on, you can express your gratitude in any of these ways: “I am thankful for …” “I have gratitude for …” “I am grateful for …” You choose what feels best for your walk.
Prior to beginning your Gratitude Walk, I encourage you to set an intention. For example, “With this walk, I will discover gratitude within and around me in ways that elevate my understanding of and appreciation for all life.” Those aligned with prayer may wish to ask to be assisted in recognizing and embracing gratitude, and the places within them that have not yet been open to gratitude.
Once you have decided which version of the walk you will perform on this day, and you’ve set your intention, turn off your cellphone, switch it to airplane mode, or leave it behind.
Perform your GBS Pre-Walk Check-In.
Before you begin to walk, find gratitude in your ability to walk. Just hold that thought. This is a powerful starting point.
As you walk, remain connected to the ground; feel your steps as you keep your spine long and your head high, walking with your body, mind, and heart open and thankful, as you allow yourself to embody gratitude to whatever degree you can, realizing that it may feel strange, foreign, and even scary to you in the beginning.
If you are having trouble getting your gratitude flowing, you can begin your steps by saying aloud or to yourself whatever you are thankful for about your physical body: “I am thankful for my eyes that allow me to see,” “I am thankful for my ears that allow me to hear,” “I am thankful for my feet,” etc. Or you may begin with something you see: “I am thankful for my car,” “I am thankful for my home,” “I am thankful for the sun,” etc.
The entire time you walk, you will be coming up with things that you are thankful for.
You are going to saturate every cell in your body with gratitude.
If you are going on the faster gratitude walk, I encourage you to align your statements of gratitude with the rhythm of your steps; that is, with every step you take, issue a part of your statement of thanks: “I … am … thankful … for … the trees … and … the earth ….”
If the moment occurs when your internal gratitude well begins to run dry, turn your focus outside and see what you can be thankful for or appreciate right in front of you—the path or walkway you’re on, the clouds in the sky, the birds in the trees, etc.
Over the course of your walk, you may find yourself repeating things you have gratitude for. This is fine. It can only deepen the experience.
Also, find gratitude for things you never thought you would feel grateful for, like past challenges. For example: the boss who fired you, who actually did you a favor because you disliked the job and found a better-suited one; or the breakup or relationship that was tough, but taught you so much. When something negative enters your thought-stream, perhaps even doubt about expressing gratitude, say, “I am thankful for my ability to spot negative thoughts. With gratitude for what it has taught me, I now release this thought.” And give it a strong exhale as well. Be creative with your thankfulness. Reach deeply into yourself— and allow yourself to be surprised. As you conclude your walk, recognize any lightness that has entered you, along with any mental, physical, or emotional shifts. Allow gratitude to live in you for the rest of the day and beyond.
HOW TO DO: FOR TWO OR MORE PEOPLE
In a culture where we are constantly tearing ourselves and others down, and often focusing on the negative, just knowing that you and others will be doing this walk makes me feel gratitude.
Assemble your group; it can be just you and one other person, or you and many.
Choose a location that fits well with your Gratitude Walk. You may wish to decide upon the particulars of the walk—the route, distance, etc.—prior to starting off; this way, the participants can more fully concentrate on their expressions of gratitude during the walk.
I’ve found that the Gratitude Walk for two or more people works very well when you partner up, one-to- one.
It can also be done as a group sharing experience, with gratitude expressed by participants about things that are close to them or the group itself.
There are two key elements to this walk: expressing and listening.
One person in the pairing (or group) expresses their gratitude while the other person (or group members) listens, then the switch takes place and the listener then shares and is listened to and received.
There are times when someone may just want to listen, or be a “designated listener,” and has nothing to share on a particular day. Listening is very powerful, as is hearing and receiving what others have gratitude for. So this is perfectly fine. One day you may be someone’s ideal designated listener.
Turn off your cellphone, switch it to airplane mode, or leave it behind.
Perform your GBS Pre-Walk Check-In.
Having established your pairings, and knowing who in the pairing will share first, begin your walk.
As you and your partner, or you and your group, proceed, you will listen, and hear, but not comment—unless commenting has been agreed upon—about what is being shared with you.
You will receive. You will reflect. You will see how and what another person’s gratitude stirs within you.
Remember, this entire walk is positive. If you run out of things to express gratitude for, return to the foundation: “I am thankful for my voice to express myself,” “I am thankful to have a friend walking beside me,” “I am thankful for the air I breathe,” etc.
Also, allow for silences, even long silences, as gratitude is felt and further discovered.
Conclude your Gratitude Walk knowing that you have expressed (and received) words, sentiments, and understandings that helped grow happiness, shift perspectives, and elevate the life experience of yourself and those in your presence.
TAKEAWAYS AND REFLECTIONS
What did you learn from your Gratitude Walk? Did your mood shift?
How did your body feel as you got deeper into your Gratitude Walk? Perhaps your breathing became fuller and easier? Were you already a thankful person? Did you come up with things (and “I am thankful for” steps) that surprised you or that you never expected?
Can you see how this practice will serve you well in the future?
If you did this walk with others, how did it feel to share gratitude with another?
Could you feel a shift within yourself as you shared your gratitude? Did you feel a shift—or an uplift—within the group?
What was it like to hear another person expressing their gratitude? Did it elevate your own walk, perhaps causing you to reflect?
Jot down or make mental notes of what may have arisen for you around gratitude, and return to the Gratitude Walk often. You can even do it every day in short segments throughout your day to help you make the shift into living in a greater state of thankfulness and gratitude.
Keeping a gratitude journal can be helpful as well.