Gratitude is something we can practice every day. There is a long list of benefits including:
- improved self-esteem
- increased mental strength
- sleeping better
- enhanced empathy
- reduced aggression
- better psychological health
- better physical health
- opening the door to more relationships.
That’s a long list, and according to Psychology Today they are all scientifically proven. And if that isn’t enough, consider that gratitude might just make you happier.
Happiness is appreciating what you have, rather than wishing for something else.
Let’s assume you’re convinced that being grateful is a worthwhile pursuit. How do you get there? Like most things, I suggest you start small.
First, acknowledge the choice:
Whether you are grateful, is up to you.
Make a conscious choice to appreciate what you have. You can be grateful that you have steady employment instead of angry about the raise you didn’t get. You can be grateful that you have a reliable car that might even be paid for, rather than jealous of the nicer car your friend has. You can be grateful for your parter (because he or she is someone you can count on, or an incredible co-parent, or a faithful partner) rather than being frustrated that he or she didn’t come home on time.
It’s a choice to be grateful instead of frustrated, disappointed, angry, jealous, sad, or a host of other emotions. But how?
Second: How to be Grateful
Gratitude might not be your natural state of being (yet), so here are a few ideas to try:
A. Think of someone who doesn’t have what you have. When you are feeling angry/frustrated/jealous etc., think of something you have that someone else would love to have. If you are in a relationship, you might know someone who wishes she or he had a partner. If you are overwhelmed with parenting, you likely can think of someone who would love to have children but hasn’t yet been able to. If you are cursing your phone because it’s not fast enough, of course, there are many people who would love to have your phone. Thinking of someone else and really visualizing the alternative (not having a partner, child, car, roof over your head, access to technology etc.) can help you find a well of gratitude within.
B. Pause to give thanks. Even if you are not in a negative swirl of emotions, pausing to feel or express appreciation can bring you much joy. You might pause to appreciate your food before your eat, and maybe even eat it more mindfully. You could take a moment to look your partner in the eye each time you greet him or her. Or you might get up in the morning and take a moment to appreciate that your body is serving you and carrying you through your life. There are many things to be grateful for.
Another reason to give thanks if that much of what we have now is not permanent. Our co-workers move on, our children grow up, and our strong healthy bodies will succumb to illness and inevitably age. I remember years ago asking my older sisters to please tell me what was next (physically) in my life. I was wishing that in my 20s I had known that a body without clear limits was a gift, or in my 30s that a body without any aches and pains was to be treasured, or in my 40s, I could have appreciated my perfect eyesight that never required glasses. With each year and each decade our bodies change — but what if we could just appreciate what we are have in that moment, instead of waiting until something is gone, like perfect eyesight and a pain-free body. So look at someone 10 or 20 years older than you, and notice what gifts you have that you might be overlooking.
Noticing the previously un-noticed, reminds me of how I feel after I have been sick: when I’m better and I no longer have a cough or headache, I feel great to “be back.” But it doesn’t take long for me to revert back living as if healthy is “normal,” and not noticing how great it is to not be sick. Thich Nhat Hahn offers similar advice about toothaches: “Suffering from your toothache you get enlightened: you say: ‘It’s wonderful not to have a toothache.’ ” In other words, let your past suffering teach you to be appreciative when your suffering is gone.
C. Daily written gratitude. It’s easy to overlook what you have, which is why pausing is helpful. To take it one step further, consider a daily practice of writing down one thing that you are grateful for. This is not just a long list of whatever comes to mind, because that gets repetitive quickly. Instead, try coming up one NEW thing, every morning or evening, that you are grateful for, and keep a running list. So, after day 10, you might have covered what is obvious to you (your family, friends, health, home, employment) but then you can think deeper and even specifically about the day: the sunshine at lunchtime when you sat outside, the smile from your co-worker, or the driver who let you cut in front of him even-though he didn’t have to. And while you are writing this list, you will inevitably glance back at the previous entries to make sure you are not duplicating. And when you do that, you will be reminded of your family, friends, health, home, and employment, without having to write them down again. It’s a simple list you can start today. Just one entry per day needed. See if you can keep it up for 30, then 60 then 100 days.
Feeling grateful may be harder some days than others. After all, life can be hard: dealing with relationships, paying bills, politics, and life in general. We juggle a lot, we get interrupted a lot, and we feel the stress of the frenzied pace of life. All of which make it hard to pause and feel grateful. But,
You can choose to be grateful
My life has not been particularly hard — I am blessed with family, health, educational opportunities, and many freedoms. So I don’t say this from personal experience, and I don’t want to belittle anyone’s hardship — but if Victor Frankl can find a way to change his attitude, then I think anyone can. Frankl was an inmate in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 1946 he published “A Man’s Search for Meaning” which chronicles his experiences there. He writes:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
To summarize, remember:
- Changing habits takes time
- Start small
- Make a choice to be grateful
- Think about others who don’t have what you have
- Pause often to give thanks
- Write down one new thing each day
Keep it up. Share this post and find someone to start this practice with you. Gratefulness creates happiness, and happiness spreads.