how do the outdoors help me practice gratitude?
It’s no secret that practicing gratitude can have an immensely positive impact on your life. The ways we go about this simple, but effective act can vary from person-to-person and even from day- to-day. For some of us, it might start as a very engaged effort to include more gratitude in our daily routine. A great example of this is setting a reminder to keep entries in a gratitude journal. Taking the time to reflect on what’s happened throughout the day and write it down forces us to find things we may have otherwise overlooked.
From deadlines to instant notifications, everything in our life is constantly fighting for our time and attention. And when you think about it, how often does anything actually have our complete and undivided attention? I’m not talking about the things that are actively after our attention either. Even the things we actively choose to pursue rarely go without interruption. When you really think about it, it’s not hard to see how important parts of our day can easily pass us by.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have something I love turn into my career. Being a full-time astro-photographer, I spend a lot of my time outdoors. I realized early on that the simple act of being outside and looking for the next place I would capture helped me build a greater appreciation for them. Things I spent most of my life not thinking twice about all of a sudden had a completely different meaning.
I grew up in a very light-polluted area of New Jersey. It’s not exactly a state known for stargazing, and as a result, I did very little of it. So, my love and appreciation of the night sky isn’t something that I carried with me my whole life. In fact, the first time I took a photo of the stars was purely by accident. And while there weren’t very many stars in that first photo, it inspired me to venture further and figure out how to capture more. I began driving further and further with my camera to try and accomplish this. I routinely went from making two-hour drives to spending well over half of the day in the car in search of truly dark skies. Each time, I would set up my camera, snap a photo, and be blown away at the number of stars captured. That feeling is normally followed by an immense amount of appreciation for what is in front of me. Now, over 10 years later, I can honestly say I still feel the same way, every time. Which might sound like an exaggeration, but I assure you it’s not.
It took me a while to realize it, but being out in nature is my own version of writing in a gratitude journal. It’s not always perfect but it forces me to slow down and allows me the opportunity to enjoy the moment. Similar to looking back and reflecting on your day, being in nature removes distractions and helps shift your focus to your surroundings. This being said, it wasn’t just the lack of distraction that was helping me practice gratitude. Without intervention, the passing of time changes the world around us. In some cases, outside forces change things at a much quicker pace. I noticed some of my favorite locations changing from visit to visit. It might be something as small as a seasonal change or something that would change the location permanently.
Being aware of these beautiful places and the time I was fortunate enough to spend there lifted my awareness of their fragility. When you look at something with the thought of knowing it might not always be there, it shifts your perspective. That lack of permanence helps bring a greater appreciation to the moment. And while that lack of permanence can be found in all aspects of our lives, it can be something that is difficult to deal with. Over time, I believe it’s an important part of the process of being grateful for the things we have.
In addition to my greater appreciation for these places, I found a strong desire to share them. These experiences meant so much to me, that I wanted other people to have their own version of them. An experience that wasn’t full of notifications, but instead a reflection on the effort and journey it took to get there. Living mindfully and being thankful for a moment that may not happen again.
With each hike and photograph, I add a page to my personal version of a gratitude journal. I’m thankful that being out in nature and doing something I love so closely mirrored many of the traditional steps of practicing gratitude. It’s helped me apply these practices in my day to day life, outside of those moments I spend in nature. I’m thankful that I can share the things I love or even just a kind interaction that makes me feel connected with others. On every scale, it has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on my life.
I think that’s what it all comes down to. We want to find ways to have positive impacts on our own lives and the lives around us. If we each work on improving ourselves, one step at a time, I think we’ll find that feeling of goodness and happiness spreads quicker than we realize.