A Practice of Gratitude

This is a post about how to create a practice of gratitude. I have a great deal for which to be grateful. I live in a beautiful place, I’m healthy, my children are thriving, I have enough to eat, and I have a warm, lovely home. But, still, I sometimes find myself wallowing in self-pity and frustration. Over the past year or so, I’ve been consciously trying to strengthen my gratitude muscle and I’ve found that the more I do it, the more naturally it comes. It really is amazing how gratitude can change your whole outlook on life. Here’s a few tips to get started:

Reframe Your Comparative Set
The first and most important recommendation I have for gratitude is to reframe your comparative set. If you are a striver like me, you may have a competitive streak. You may be drawn to compare your life to your colleagues, your college friends, your family members. That’s all good and well and the subject of a different post for the future about the power of being aspirational. But, it is also really important to remember how great you have it. I find that reflecting a bit on what life is like for so many people in the world who lack access to clean water or medical care, live in war-torn places, or struggle to provide for their children, reminds me how basically awesome my life is. I have won the life lottery in so many ways. If people who have struggled and suffered can rise above their circumstances and contribute to the world (e.g.Malala), then I can let go of the fact that my commute took too long. Along those lines, finding a way to spend helping time with people whose challenges surpass your own can be a wonderful way to be of service and put your own woes in perspective.

Write it Down

About a year ago, I started a Gratitude Journal. There are a lot of great apps out for this. I like the “Gratitude Journal – The Life-changing app” because after I make an entry it gives me a gratitude related quote and I LOVE a good quote. It’s very simple and straightforward and I usually end up writing about the same things – my kids, my health, etc. I also end up listing people in the journal. I’ve had a couple of times at work where I’ve told someone that they make it to my gratitude journal and they emit a palpable  warm glow. I try to do my journal entry on my morning commute and I’ve noticed a qualitative difference in my mental outlook on the days that I’ve written in the journal. 

Share Gratitude with Your Kids

Shortly after she started school, we noticed that it was hard to get my then 6-year old daughter to tell us much about what had happened during her day. So, we started a new practice with her that we call What Went Well. Right before bed, we each list three things that went well on that day. Because of What Went Well, she has told me about people and situations at school that I would not have heard about otherwise and it has helped her to focus on all the wonderful things in her life. And, it usually gives me a good chance to tell her about some way in which I am grateful for her. She loves to be listed on our What Went Wells!

Meditate on It

Meditation is awesome and if you are reading this blog, maybe you’ve tried it. If not, no time like the present to be present. I use the Calm app, which I love. They have a 7-days of gratitude series that I highly recommend. The single most helpful tip I’ve used in meditating is to focus on a particular idea or word or feeling. That helps to quiet my busy mind. Gratitude is a particularly powerful idea on which to meditate because it infuses you with such a sense of abundance and well-being. And, you don’t have to be sitting on a cushion in a quiet place to do it. You can stop anywhere, anytime, and spend a few moments of quiet breathing, focusing on all the wonderful things in your life.

Say Thank You

Maybe the most foundational move in the gratitude playbook is to share your gratitude with the people in your life. This practice has the dual impact of uplifting both you and the recipient of your gratitude. At the suggestion of the Calm 7-days of gratitude series, I recently sent my husband an email articulating all the things about him for which I am grateful (or at least a lot of them). He loved it, and I loved sending it. When we really reflect on the people in our lives, we find that there is much in them that we love and cherish. Tell them! It will strengthen your relationships in profound ways.

I believe that a practice of gratitude is the foundation for a happy outlook on life. Thank you for reading this post. For what or whom are you grateful today?