With Thanksgiving around the corner and the gift-giving season shortly to follow, it seems like the right time to reflect on the value of gratitude and how we might better practice it in our daily lives.
The Value of Gratitude
It’s easy to guess why consciously seeking gratitude might be beneficial for our mood and overall outlook on life. If you’re envisioning reasons to be grateful, then you’re likely remembering or even reliving the joy you experienced from the original source of gratitude.
“Expressing gratitude for life’s blessings (a sense of
wonder, thankfulness and appreciation) is likely to elevate
positive affect for a number of reasons. Grateful thinking
fosters the savoring of positive life experiences and situations,
so that people can extract the maximum possible satisfaction
and enjoyment from their circumstances.”
–Sheldon and Lyubomirsky 2006
I absolutely love this idea, and am ready to choose the joy that conscious gratitude will bring into my life. It can be challenging to remember to be grateful if you don’t create a practice around it — it fact, it’s much easier to notice all the things going wrong in day-to-day life. It’s easy to get bogged down by traffic and family drama and stress at work and holiday shopping lists and ridiculously expensive trips to the grocery store. All these little nuisances can add up to a complete gratitude void if you aren’t careful and conscious.
5 Ways to Foster Gratitude
Part of the value of gratitude is the idea that being present is part of the practice. Taking yourself out of an habitually negative mindset requires an active decision, a decisive effort. That’s what I mean when I say to create a practice out of it. There are countless ways to do this. Here are five:
Create a list of events/things from your day to be grateful for before you go to bed each night
This is not a new one, but it’s still worth mentioning. I keep a little notepad by my bed so that I can jot down last-minute thoughts and to-do’s as they pop into my mind as I’m falling asleep. Back in the day when I played music, some good lyrics would come up right around this time of night. It’s a super practical tool, but shifting it from a subconscious “to-do” to a fully conscious “have-done” list of gratitude for my day would at the very least mean a couple of minutes of reflection on the good stuff right before bed. That type of reflection will remind me the next day to notice even more reasons to be grateful. I might even find myself looking forward to making my list.
Consciously re-frame something that you initially perceived as negative into an opportunity to be grateful
Like I noted before, it’s tempting to focus on the things going wrong around us, the disruptive parts of our day that ruin our plans or frustrate us. The parking at work, the mud tracked in after all this rain, the grey skies. But there’s always a silver lining, and amid whatever you perceive to be going wrong in your life today or in general, there is always something going well too, something to be grateful for, or at the very least something to learn. How can we spin the things we perceive as disruptive into something to be grateful for? Those mud tracks and grey skies mean more water in our reservoirs when we’re in a state of drought. They mean less water we’re using to water our plants. Those are things to be thankful for!
Seek out something/someone to appreciate
Start the day by committing to genuinely thank at least one person you come into contact with (especially those in the service industry, and especially this time of year). The act of kindness and expression of gratitude will not only bring you joy, it will spread to your cashier or server, to your mail man or bus driver, and the flow of gratitude will grow into something larger than you. If we’re actively seeking positivity around us, if we’re actively looking for the silver lining or the reasons to be grateful for the people and things in our lives, the possibilities of what we could do are limitless.
Resist the urge to complain
You’d be surprised at how much complaining can bring you down. And it actually bring the people around you down too. We all know that one person, the one down the hall at work or that one family member, who can manage to turn every situation into a reason to complain. The one who sends their food back over and over, complains about every little change in procedure, or unloads their whole miserable life on you first thing at 8am as you put your bag down on your desk. Do you find yourself avoiding those people, or do you join in and start volleying your own complaints into the mix? If you choose the latter, how do you feel when you’re finished complaining? My guess is not better.
I learned about a pretty neat little device at a wellness event I attended at Sonoma Valley Hospital a few months back. It’s up to you whether or not you try this, but it sounds like it worked like a charm for the folks who did it there with incidents of complaining dramatically decreasing over the course of just a week or two. Wear a bracelet on your wrist and switch it to the other arm every time you catch yourself complaining. It’s a simple little reminder not to complain, and it also helps create awareness and conscious presence in your day-to-day life. Try it, see what you think!
Write Thank You notes
Be honest, did you roll your eyes at this one?
In this day and age, a paper thank you note seems silly to most of us. But guess what, it’s not silly at all to the person receiving it. The effect of writing a thank you note is a lot like the effect of thanking your server. It feels good to write out the nice things someone has done for you, and it feels good to be on the receiving end of those thank you’s. A fun twist on this expression of gratitude is to thank someone for something small. Thank you notes aren’t just reserved for wedding and shower gifts. You can send a thank you note to someone who made your day last week by sharing a hilarious cat .gif when you were on the verge of tears. Or to someone who helped you sort through a problem that you really needed to talk about out loud. Try it. And include those sweet people on your list of things to be grateful for too.
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving week?
Please share in the comments below.