We’ve all heard some form of cliche advice about being grateful. We’ve been told to ‘stop pitying yourself, people have it worse, you should be grateful’. The problem is, when gratitude is inspired by guilt, obligation, or shame, that’s not gratitude at all. Gratitude is an emotion that goes beyond the simple notion of being thankful for what you have.
At the most basic level, yes, gratitude is being satisfied and appreciative of what you have. It’s easy to say you’re grateful when you’re feeling a little spoiled, but embracing gratitude as a feeling at all times becomes a little more complex. That’s when it becomes a powerful tool, not just a nice habit.
A few ways you can practice gratitude on a daily basis are:
Making time for a regular gratitude session is an easy way to start the habit of gratitude by consciously recognizing all of the good in your life. Either mentally or by actually writing it down, list the things in your life that are good. The list can include things like: I have a wonderful wife, I am not sick, I have a job, I have a place to live, my family is healthy, I can see and appreciate the world around me… you get the idea. While this tactic may seem trivial to some, something as simple as altering your thought process from one of negativity to one of gratitude can change your life and deepen your understanding of why these small good things are so important in your life – especially at times when things seem to go wrong.
Our memories aren’t always the best, so leaving notes for your future self to remind yourself to appreciate people/things in your life can be a great help. Modern technology allows us to create reminders for ourselves months or years in advance. Use your phone or calendar to appreciate small things like not being sick, or to reach out to a friend. These small reminders from past you can help to improve the life of future you.
Start a journal to help you focus your attention. It doesn’t have to be long and fancy, but committing yourself to writing down how things are going will help you reflect. Some people do this before bed, to ease their worries of what’s gone wrong in the day or what’s coming up tomorrow and refresh their mindset before heading to bed.
Remember the bad. We have a tendency to be less grateful when times are good, because we begin to feel invincible. Gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons, suggests the following exercise: think about some of the un-happiest events in your life, how often do you find yourself thinking about these times today? Does the contrast with the present make you feel grateful, or do you realize your current life situation is not as bad as it could be? The point is that you shouldn’t erase the past from your memory, but rather use it as a frame of reference from which you can view new experiences and events.
Gratitude, like so many other good practices, is a habit that can be cultivated. Only thing is, habits take time to develop! On average it takes 2 months, and could take as long as 8 months, for a new behavior to become automatic.
Bottom line? Start Small. Find one small trick, or focus on 1-2 things that help you to be more appreciative on a daily basis, and be patient with yourself.