In our journey to feel and express more gratitude, we often visit past memories, become mindful in the present moment, but rarely think about gratitude for the future. Here’s how to show gratitude for the past, present, and future, step by step. Each requires a different lens: increase your gratitude with the right focus.
Gratitude for the Past
Of course, showing gratitude for the past is about appreciating our experiences, good memories and benefits received. Counting our blessings.
But to be truly grateful for things that happened earlier in our life requires seeing the past through several lenses.
1. Ask why.
Being grateful is more than just a list of the “good stuff” in our journal or planner. We want to feel gratitude. The best way to go deeper is to ask why.
My favorite example is one that’s personal. If a prompt asks to list an animal for which you’re grateful, don’t just write “dog” and move to the next prompt. Ask yourself why, out of all the animals in the whole wide world you chose the dog.
I’ve own many different dogs & cats over my lifetime, but when I read that prompt Sparky, the black and white border collie we had when I was in grade school, flashes to my mind. I used to cry into his fluffy chest, just sobbing when my little heart was broken, and he would sit there in front of me with my arms around his neck, face buried in his fur, and let me cry.
After I feel the emotions of the memory – and they pass – I feel gratitude for the love of a pet who was always there when I needed him. To truly feel the emotion we need to ask why. Now we’re ready for the next lens.
2. Ask Who.
In the first example, my dog Sparky was the blessing. I can be thankful for his goodness to me when I cried, but I can also take my gratitude deeper by asking “who”.
Using the who lens to look at our past acknowledges that blessings come to us through others. My parents decided a pet would be good for me. Now my gratitude extends to them.
When we ask who, it opens a whole world of people to thank. In the example of my dog, there’s also the breeder, the pet store owner, the vet who cared for him. When our hearts expand to embrace all those nameless, faceless “others” we experience Global Gratitude, that generalized feeling of gratefulness that we associate with serenity.
And if we extend the “who” to include God (or the universe or Higher Power), we acknowledge that our blessings come through others. Now we are growing beyond grateful thoughts and feelings to a spiritual walk in gratitude & peace.
This challenges us to look at our past with one more lens, when we’re ready.
3. Ask for What.
Gratitude reframes our past so instead of focusing on events as something that happened to us, we begin to see that they happened for us.
It’s natural to feel pain or regret over past events, and it’s okay to grieve or feel anger. The idea isn’t to suppress or invalidate these feelings but to complement them with a broader perspective that can lead to healing and growth.
When we ask “for what”, we can see with the passage of time:
- there was a silver lining
- our struggles led to our growth
- a negative experience forced us to look for opportunities that brought a beneficial change
- we found a deeper meaning or purpose through our challenges
- we survived that, so we can do anything, we are resilient
- there’s a bigger picture: gratitude shows us how the small and large pieces fit together in the grand scheme of our journey
Gratitude reshapes our narratives into blessings. It becomes easier to forgive, to let go of the past that hurts us and the grudges & resentments that cloud our ability to see the positive. This, in turn, makes room for greater gratitude.
Gratitude for the Present
This is about appreciating the current moment and the experiences and gifts it brings. It’s about being mindful of and thankful for the good things that are happening now. This kind of gratitude makes everyday moments meaningful.
1. Ask your senses.
To elevate the everyday, we use the lens of our senses.
Mindfulness requires us to be present in the moment, in our bodies, and to use our senses to their fullest. When we focus on our senses, our mind stops racing.
Take a deep breath, release it slowly and ask yourself:
- what do you see: is there something there you’ve never noticed before, or an object that brings pleasure when you focus on every detail
- what do you hear: music, voices – silence
- what do physically feel: warmth, textures, touches
- what do you taste: food, salt in the sea air
- what do you smell: perfume, food cooking, coffee in your mug, flowers, the distinct scent of your partner
After you’ve used your senses to appreciate your surroundings you’ll feel gratitude & peace and a profound happiness in where you are at that moment.
Gratitude for the future
This is a hopeful and expectant gratitude. It’s about being optimistic, watching for the good things yet to come. It’s a gratitude that creates a resilience and positive outlook even in uncertain times.
1. Ask where.
Gratitude reframes our past and shines a glowing light on where we’ve been, the people who helped us get there, what we’ve learned on the journey, and who we’ve become.
It makes us appreciate where we are today, our growth to get there, and tells us that what we have today is enough. It grounds us.
When we look to our future, we ask “where”. Where will we be in 2 years? 5 years? Ten? Gratitude sees our future through the lenses of our past & present combined.
This transforms our grandiose dreams of a future filled with self-pleasure to something higher, more meaningful. Gratitude melds our past, present and future into a mission, a calling, a purpose for which we were born.
2. Ask How.
Gratitude is a beacon of hope for our future that calls us to believe something better is on the way. But through the lens of the past & present we know that we will need to grow, to meet others who will help us along the way, and to learn lessons required to live that future.
The lens of the present helps us understand where we are and what we truly desire. The lens of the past shows us our passions, strengths, weaknesses, and values.
What do you want to accomplish in life?
What future do you envision, what do you see?
- where are you
- what do you need to learn to get there
- who do you see around you in that future
- what do you need to do to make it a reality
This is when we ask “how”. How are we going to get to that vision of the future? We reverse engineer.
- What is the big over-arching goal for that future?
- How do you accomplish that goal? What are the stepping stones you need to accomplish to get from where you are now to that future?
- How can you achieve those stepping stones?
- What is the first thing you need to do to lead you to the first stepping stone?
- How can you form the habits you need to get to the first stepping stone?
Keep asking “how” as you move from one stepping stone to the next. Before you know it, gratitude has led you to the place you’ve always longed to be.
A vision for your future is a guiding light, not a binding contract. It should inspire and motivate you, not weigh you down. The journey to achieving your vision will be filled with learning experiences, adjustments, and growth. Embrace the process as much as the destination.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”Melody Beattie
By looking at our past, present and future with the correct lens, asking the right questions, gratitude reframes our past, offers a touchstone in the present and anticipates a bright future. We come to understand the power of gratitude to truly change our life for the better.