Pamela Seelig

Author of Threads of Yoga

Available Now!

What If I Don’t Feel Thankful?

Sometimes, especially when life is challenging and painful, we may not feel very grateful or content. Trying to feel thankful can seem trite, cliché, or the opposite of authentic. Should we pretend to be thankful even if we’re not feeling it?

Yoga philosophy teaches that contentment, or Santosha in Sanskrit, is an empowering and potent practice. This was news to me. I thought that contentment was a pleasant feeling that arose due to outer circumstances, such as feeling warm and dry when it’s cold outside. 
I had no idea that we could cultivate and increase our ability to experience this sensation through practice. The Yoga Sutras, a two-thousand-year-old text written by the Indian sage Patanjali, establishes the importance of contentment as a practice. Santosha is one of the ten yamas and niyamas, or ethical precepts, and is right up there with non-violence and non-stealing. 

The Yoga Sutras tell us, and modern science agrees, that the practice of Santosha, or cultivating contentment, is a secret to happiness. But even so, the chaos and negativity in the world today can make thankfulness feel like a stretch. How can we remain authentic and honest when we don’t feel grateful?

Yoga teaches us how to bring more awareness and presence into our lives. This awareness includes both pleasant and painful experiences. We don’t need to pretend that everything is perfect or that we will never be sad. Grief and sadness are real, but remembering to see the good in our lives helps us view it from a more expansive perspective.

When we learn to cultivate contentment, we see how we may accidentally overlook what we do have and instead allow the mind to focus only on the negative. We can so easily forget to be grateful for simple gifts such as how the sun warms our skin or a cup of tea or coffee in the morning. Eventually, we may even feel thankful for the harsher life lessons learned. 

Practices such as keeping a gratitude journal train the mind to notice the small gifts present in our lives. Meditations that focus on the mantra “thank you” help us to feel and ground the vibration of gratefulness in our bodies.

While we don’t have to be happy all of the time, it’s up to us to be conscious of and manage our thoughts to foster a positive outlook. The ancient yogis tell us that the secret power of Santosha is “supreme happiness.” This happiness is not found outside us but resides within.  

This Thanksgiving, we can commit to more clearly recognizing the gift of our existence. Try the mantra meditation below to help anchor the feeling of contentment into the body.

Thank You Meditation

Take a comfortable seat, close your eyes and relax the body. Feel the breath in the nose and feel a sense of gratefulness for the air as it flows in and out of the lungs. Allow thoughts to be in the background. Bring to mind one thing that you’re grateful for. It can be a small thing, maybe your morning coffee ritual, or for something more significant such as your good health. It doesn’t matter what it is but choose one thing. Now feel the sensation of thankfulness in your body. Repeat the mantra “thank you” as you inhale and “thank you” as you exhale. Keep the mind focused on the words as you feel the vibration of thank you in the body. Continue for a few more breaths feeling the sensation of thankfulness. Allow it to flow through you like medicine.