Let’s cut to the chase. Life isn’t all Sunshine & Rainbows. And while I wish that the feeling of snuggling with my purring kitties followed me around all day long, it rarely does. Well, it sure doesn’t without some cultivating and intention of gratitude. Gratitude, the art of generating a warm-fuzzy feeling by focusing on what you appreciate, can be generated at any given point in the day. But it does take practice. Is is worth it? Hell yes. In this article we will explore the topic of gratitude and discuss why you need more of it in your life, plus identify 5 Ways to Practice Gratitude.
Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude is defined as “the state of being grateful,” (1). While we might have moments of feeling thankful and appreciating the good in life, gratitude goes beyond a glimpse of joy. Quite frankly, it is about being in a mindset. One that focuses on what is going well and what is good in the world around us. A mindset that believes, in general, that the world is a good place and that the Universe is a friend. An attitude that, once we align, we feel good about ourselves, our lives, and the future.
Feeling a feeling is one thing. Creating a mindset is very different. Mindset is about consistently wiring your brain towards a certain response or way or thinking. Indeed, it is well known that our thoughts do in turn create our emotions. And the way we feel often creates our reality. Thus, if we create more positive outlooks and ways of thinking, our feelings will follow in suit, and we actually end up having more positive life experiences.
This attitude may come naturally to some, more readily to more still, yet it can be a challenge for many of us. Creating an “attitude of gratitude” takes both effort and repetition. Much like any new habit, once we do something often enough, it becomes ingrained. We don’t even have to try that hard! A habit just expresses itself naturally. The same is true of gratitude once we create a habitual way of applying it to our lives.
Benefits of Gratitude
Before we discuss the hows, let’s look at the whys. According to one article from Forbes.com, gratitude has many benefits including:
Improved quality of relationships
Enhanced physical health
Positive emotional wellbeing
Increased empathy and reduced levels of aggression
Increased mental resilience
Higher levels of self-esteem
There are even some people that attribute gratitude for their wealth and prosperity. Many people that have used gratitude as described in the book The Secret as a means to help them manifest jobs, money, and financial stability simply by focusing on being thankful.
With the amount of personal testimonies and research on the topic, it’s a wonder why everyone isn’t using gratitude as a tool to their everyday lives. The ultimate outcome of gratitude is something we all want: happiness. It is my vision that eventually we WILL use gratitude to shift the whole world towards happiness and fulfillment. Gratitude has been an incredibly effective tool for me. And it isn’t just for the rare few.
The Path That Everyone Can Take
There are some virtues in life that seem impossible to achieve. One of those virtues I have struggled with is patience. Slow down. Be still. Be patient. Um hello?? Do you even live in the U.S.? It can be hard to cultivate patience in a society and culture that demands things happen “now!” But honestly, I have always been rather anxious when waiting for something. As a child, I remember anxiously walking back and forth to the window when waiting for a friend and their parents to come pick me up for a sleepover. I was so excited, I couldn’t patiently wait!
My point here is that both culture and our personality can lead to more or less difficulty achieving virtuous qualities or mindsets. I believe, however, that anyone, I repeat ANYONE, can become grateful and rewire their brain towards gratitude. Even if the path is less followed, this does not mean it is more difficult. NAY! It is actually quite simple!
Research indicates that the benefits of gratitude typically can be seen and felt within 4-12 weeks of practicing gratitude (3). As I mentioned, a habit needs to be formed and with regular practice, you will begin to really experience the benefits of gratitude. Therefore, if you are ready to be happy, have better health, relationships, sleep, and feel great about yourself and your life, you need to commit to practicing 10-20 minutes a day, EVERY SINGLE DAY. But seriously, that is hardly any time at all!
I do my gratitude practice formally in the morning. I have also added in a short practice right before bed. There is no one way that is the only way, but here are a list of 5 Ways to Practice Gratitude Daily.
- Keep a gratitude journal
This is probably the most common gratitude practice and often the most efficient. Writing anything down has a way of solidifying the experience into our subconcious. Sitting and writing about what we are thankful for is an amazing way to start rewiring our brain toward gratitude. It’s pretty easy and just requires you to actually do it, consistently.
I keep my gratitude journal by my bed so that it is within reach first thing in the morning. I grab my cup of coffee, snuggle up with my kitties, and write faithfully every morning. You can write about what you are thankful for in the moment or in your life currently. You can write about past experiences that made you who you are. Write things you appreciate about yourself, or even about future things that you are expecting and hoping will happen and you are thankful for them in advance.
Time: 10 minutes, 1-2x a day
- Say “Thank You” outloud
This is probably the most simple and straight forward way to practice gratitude. Simply say “thank you” as much and as often as you can (without drawing too much attention to yourself!). This verbal and vocal act helps to trigger our brain, almost tricking us into feeling thankful. Much like the science behind “smile until you feel happy,” say thank you until you feel grateful.
As Rhonda Byrne explains, she has the daily practice of waking up and saying “thank you” during her entire morning routine (4). “Thank you, thank you, thank you” as she walks to the bathroom. “Thank you, thank you, thank you” as she does her hair and puts on her makeup. You can even incorporate this throughout the day while you are driving to work or taking a bathroom break.
This also could be used in the way you interact with other people throughout the day. Try to use the words “thank you” more than you normally would. Consciously try to notice when people do something that helps you and acknowledge this with a “thank you.”
Time: 1 second, 100+x a day
- Before bed, think about everything from your day you are thankful for
Another short and seemingly small practice of gratitude, make a habit of getting your mind set on gratitude right before bed. This will actually help you sleep better and absorb the positive intention of being grateful while you sleep. The practice is sort of like a meditation, reviewing the things in your mind and staying focused on what you are thankful for. You can even practice being grateful for the sleep you are about to get, the comfort of your bed, or the temperature in your room.
Esther Hicks has a guided meditation with this very same practice. You can access the meditation through her website Abraham-Hicks Publications.
Time: 5 minutes, once a day before bed
- Every morning, before you get out of bed, review everything you are thankful for in the day ahead
Similar to the practice listed above, spending a few minutes first thing in the morning to help prime your mind towards gratitude is pivotal to shifting your mindset. If we wake up in the morning already dreading the day ahead, we probably will have a rough day. But if we wake up thinking about our day in a positive light, this may help things go smoother.
Imagine the plans for your day. Think about the people you will likely encounter, the places you will see, or the activities you might be a part of. Note something you appreciate and are thankful for in every aspect of your day. Even if it is “I’m thankful for my quiet drive to work,” or “I’m thankful for my co-worker who will likely greet me with a warm smile.” Count your blessings, not your curses.
Time: 5 minutes, once a day in the A.M.
- When you notice negative thinking, try switching to gratitude
When your mind is going down a slippery slope of “woe is me” or “this is the worst,” try consciously shifting to thoughts that make you feel grateful. For instance, think about snuggling with a pet, think about holding your child or lover, or think about walking in nature or on the beach. The key is to really FEEL the FEELINGS of gratitude from those thoughts. Really imagine you are with your pet or on the beach. Imagine these scenarios until you feel grateful.
This can be easier said than done. Although I will say, it gets easier with time. The more you are practicing other forms of gratitude, the more quickly your mind will be able to sync up in the moment. Practice noticing your thinking first. If we are on auto-pilot, it’s hard to be mindful of anything. Once we are aware that our thoughts have taken a nosedive, that’s when gratitude can be our accountability partner and keep us in check.
Practice Makes Perfect
Alright, maybe ‘perfect’ isn’t the right word here. But no matter what, you must keep at it. Creating a gratitude practice and shifting into a new mindstate of gratitude can take a little time, but sticking with it is key. I cannot stress enough how important it is to do these practices DAILY! No excuses!
If we want the benefits of gratitude, we must be willing to put in a little effort. But look above at the list. The most time any one of these activities take is 10 minutes! Mix in a few a day, and you are looking at 15-20 minutes a day, tops. If someone told you that 15-20 minutes a day of something could change your life, what would you do? My answer would be: so where do I sign up?