The Art of Hui Gan and the Practice of Gratitude – Learning to Shift Perspective and Savor the Sweetness

Gratitude doesn’t always feel like a natural state, especially during difficult times, yet with daily practice it becomes a life-changing habit.  The following quote, credited to English novelist and dramatist, Charles Reade (1814 – 1884) and shared by many others in one form or another, conveys the transformative power in making gratitude a routine practice.

“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”    

Growing gratitude is like building a core muscle.

Cultivating gratitude is often described in terms of a “practice”.  Just like building core muscles in our body, the process of learning to be grateful is also a type of workout—it’s spiritual strength training for the heart.  And just like a successful fitness practice, learning to sustain a state of gratitude requires dedication, patience, time, and routine application.

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Excuses, excuses, excuses!

And then there are our excuses!  We’re masters at concocting excuses to avoid exercising.  I’m too busy…I’m tired…I’m not in the mood…I’ll do it tomorrow…we all know how we get ourselves off the hook!  We also have conscious and unconscious blocks to being grateful.  We dismiss, forget, don’t appreciate, or are just not aware of all the gifts we’ve been given, especially when they don’t align with what we want, or when circumstances are incredibly challenging, painful, shocking, etc. 

Just turn on the news…there’s certainly no shortage of personal or global stressors today, and a lot of time daily life is downright hard.  But we must develop our “gratitude muscle” if we want to open our heart and reap a destiny…or at least increase our well-being.  Numerous studies show that gratitude is consistently associated with a myriad of benefits including greater happiness, improved physical and psychological health, stronger relationships, better sleep, a more positive attitude, enhanced empathy, and increased resilience.

Reframing our thoughts shifts our perspective which changes everything!

The following simple yet profound practices will help strengthen our heart’s gratitude muscle, which will seamlessly transform the quality of our lives.

    • Keep a daily gratitude journal.  Create a journaling routine in which you reflect on and acknowledge all the gifts, people, benefits, good things, and grace that have positively touched your day.  By strengthening and celebrating the positivity of the present, you begin to experience abundance rather than scarcity, which creates a sustainable pattern of gratefulness.

    • Remember the sweetness of the past.  The art of Hui Gan–appreciating the magical aftertaste of tea–can teach us something uniquely special about gratitude.  In Chinese, Hui Gan translates into “returning sweetness” and it embodies “a pleasant sweetness followed by an initial bitterness.”  So, take a pause and reflect on your past…savor the special transcendent moments and joyfully bring them into the present as reminders for your body, mind, soul, and spirit.  You don’t have to focus on difficult memories; you can gently let them go while remembering how far you’ve come.  Just like appreciating the comforting sweetness of tea lingering in your mouth, savor your finest and sweetest moments and those of others.  It will continually flood you with gratefulness. 

    • Learn prayers of gratitude.  In many spiritual traditions, prayers of gratitude are regarded as the most powerful as they recognize the True Source of all we are and the True Giver of every gift we’ve ever received.

    • Appreciate your body.  The human body is not only a genius operational marvel but a most precious gift.  Use all of your senses—touch, see, smell, feel, move, taste, breathe, hear—to enjoy being in your body and appreciate what an incredible miracle it is to be alive!

    • Make an oath to practice gratitude.  Research shows that making a vow to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed.  Write a simple gratitude oath like, “I vow to count my blessings every day,” and post it somewhere as a visible reminder.

    • Speak the language of gratitude.  Grateful people incorporate words like gifts, givers, grace, blessings, blessed, thankful, and abundance.

    • Let your grateful thoughts and emotions become simple actions.  Smile, say thank you, write letters of gratitude, listen with attention and care, open a door, offer a helping hand.  Our movements can naturally reflect the gratitude we think and feel.

    • Shift perspective in difficult times.  Like M.C. Escher’s artwork featuring perspective impossibilities, choose to prioritize a different view.  Although not always easy when facing difficulties, if you can see your challenging situation as an opportunity to uncover a gift, even seemingly tiny at that moment, you will begin to find the “learning pearl” and grow your gratitude muscle.  Be open minded and open hearted in how you view your circumstances, remembering we don’t have a Birdseye view, just a microscopic sliver.  Speaking of pearls, they are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks as a defense mechanism against a potentially threatening irritant or an attack from outside.  Now that’s a miraculous gift of nature worth pondering…

So, take a meaningful pause to savor the sweetness in your past while finding present reasons to celebrate the beautiful abundance that is flowing within your heart and throughout your life.  Shift your perspective and remember that your Thanksgiving thoughts, actions and habits have the power to reap your destiny as well as positively impact the people and world around you.