How to Practice Gratitude

  • Time to read: 8 min.

Gratitude is a word that is regularly thrown around on social media, by health advertisements, and in yoga classes. Most of us have heard about it before and understand the general concept, but what does it mean for the everyday person, and how do we practice it?

Gratitude Explained

Take a look around you right now. Most of you will be reading this from a smartphone while sitting comfortably in a space you can call your own. You are wearing clothes that keep you warm, and you likely have a decent coffee at hand! You are grateful to have a smartphone, clothes to wear, a space to call your own.   Perhaps you never realized until this moment that these simple things not everyone has, and you feel grateful that you do.

While having these things keep us satisfied materially, genuine gratitude is more profound than this and requires a degree of letting go. Meaningful gratitude is taking away the conditions and appreciating what indeed is. Take the previous scenario.  Where are you reading this? At home? Without a home, the phone, or the coffee, what are you? How are you?

Stripped back from all of the material, that is what each of us has in common. We are each here today and every day that we have, past and future, experiencing life. When life hands us a difficult or seemingly impossible situation, what can we do to motivate us to look forward to the next one?

Maybe you have heard yourself say, ‘It’s one thing after another.’ Each person has to find their reason or purpose in which to push themselves towards every new day. Without this, it becomes easy to slip into restrictive and pessimistic mindsets or viewpoints.

You may wonder why it sounds so easy written down but becomes a harsh reality when in practice. Instead of seeing the act of acknowledging gratitude as a task that requires one to think hard about each moment, try to imagine that it’s an activity like breathing. Always there, but rarely taken into consideration until we focus on it.

Just Breathe

In difficult situations in my life, people that care about me have told me just to breathe. 

I use to think I am; I am breathing.  Now I see the statement breathe differently. I use these words as a focus of moving forward minute by minute sometimes. I say to myself in challenging situations, as well as the circumstances that are not challenging, breathe. 

I check in with myself to determine how I am feeling and if my thought pattern is positive or negative or both. I focus on my breathing, feeling the air enter my nostrils and fill my chest. Then I focus on everything and every person I am grateful for and why. 

How Will Gratitude Change Your Life And Attitude

Researchers at Berkeley recently wrote about the effects that resulted from their exploration into how gratitude rewires the brain and its impact on positive mental health.

They suggested that the use of less harmful emotion words shifts our focus away from feelings of resentment or envy.  By doing this, we spend less time ruminating over those situations which have influenced our negative thoughts.

When anxiety comes into play, the focus becomes hardwired to zero in on discovering reasons for why we are in the position we are or even why we deserve it. Gratitude can help us to keep the bigger picture in mind without losing ourselves in the details. The researchers also found that gratitude increases an individual’s patience.

In a world where we can receive material goods and services within a matter of moments, delayed gratification has become a thing of the past.

Patience requires letting go of desires and remaining calm throughout the process. Without this, it gets easier to feel the grass may be greener in other areas and hop from one thing to another to explore what can quickly fulfil us.  Patience allows us the opportunity of appreciating the time, the people, the situation, and what we already have in our possession.

A final note from the Berkeley researchers was that gratitude affects our brain structure and function.  Those who practice and express gratitude daily activate the area of their brain responsible for learning and decision making more often than those who do not.

Bringing gratitude into each day has positive benefits for everyone, regardless of their mental health. Life without thankfulness feels less satisfying. Gratitude enhances our experience by helping the real you and what is around you, shine through when all else seems overwhelming. How can this then be implemented and without taking up so much time in the day?

Steps To Practicing Gratitude

1. Complaints

Have you ever been around a coworker or friend, or maybe it’s you, that always seems to have something wrong to say about every single thing? The coffee was lukewarm, or the traffic was terrible this morning.

Yes, items can be frustrating, and life sometimes is never as simple as waking up and succeeding, but complaints are not a necessity of life. Complaining leaves you holding bad feelings that seep into the rest of your day, robbing you of experiencing the joy that may have been. 

Complaining and sharing one’s feelings, needing support, and stating the circumstances are different.  Trusting a person to share your thoughts and feelings to make a change is how we connect to grow. Complaining is when you keep sharing a frustrating situation with many people.   

Try this next time you find yourself in these moments; turn off the complaints. In return, you may decide to pay a favour forward by doing something beautiful for someone and something sweet will be done for you and vice versa.

When it comes to finding yourself stuck in a traffic jam, breathe and take this moment as an opportunity to focus on your surroundings. The weather, the song that is playing on the radio.  The fact you’ve woken up to see another great day.

Taking attention away from the negative minutes in your day emphasizes the grateful feeling that you have for the rest of the hours.

2. Say It In Person

Gratitude does not need to be shared with others to receive the benefits. However, if internalizing your gratitude remains to be effective in changing your attitude, why not show it towards others? We all know the power of a kind word or gesture in a moment when we need it most.

Many people consider themselves to have ‘imposter syndrome,’ the feeling of inadequacy or lack of skill. It is the ‘I shouldn’t be here, I can’t do this.’ These words sprout like seeds planted into our brains and can embed themselves into our self-image.

Imagine for a moment; you have had a tough day at work. The critical meeting that would secure a large contract flopped and your confidence is now low. You see your boss walking towards your desk and immediately, your instinct tells you to guard yourself, this isn’t going to be pretty.  Your thoughts race and you want to run and hide.

Instead of your boss condemning you, they state they appreciated your passion for the company, regardless of the result of the meeting. This brief encounter can lend to building secure networks and morale within a company, friend circles or family.

By expressing our gratitude towards those we care about and love more often, we are sharing these positive emotions and connections that make life fulfilling. If circumstances don’t allow you to state your gratitude in person, find the time to create thank you letters.

Create a list of all the people that have been important in your life. Sit for ten to fifteen minutes, thinking about each person and the significant impact they have had on you.  Look at how your life is different because they are or were a part of your life.

Then write a letter expressing your gratitude in how their actions, advice or presence has been of a great benefit and truly feel while allowing yourself to pour words onto the paper. Writing this letter will help you feel gratitude.  In sending the message, if comfortable in doing so, you would be paying it forward, doing a kindness for another.

3. Insight

Many people utilize a gratitude journal, a small notebook in which they jot down moments of significance and remind themselves that there’s always a bright side.

If journaling is not for you, consider a gratitude jar instead. Keep this in a place you can physically see each day and take a second to stash three notes away. Gratitude jars are great if you live by yourself or if you have a family.

Each day jot one note of gratitude and place it in the jar.  If you are a family and have a gratitude jar for each person, then you can choose to write a note for each jar daily or weekly.  You can also utilize the jar to send a small thank you for something that has made your life more comfortable.

When you are having a lousy day, take out a note or two, if needed, from your gratitude jar.  Sit down, take a deep breath and read the written words feeling the gratitude and thanks.Gratitude jars can also be a great way of showing younger children the positives of thinking about gratitude from an early age or involving them in your new practice.

4. Laugh

Last but not least, smile more. It does wonders for your brain. The next time you find yourself in a position where the stress is all-encompassing, and you can’t see an easy solution, flash a smile. What’s the worst that can happen?

Laugh, because it doesn’t make it worse.  Sometimes it is the only thing you can do that helps ease the pressure and focuses your mind on finding a solution. Appreciate that even in this moment of stress, you can find happiness.

Click here to explore further how Laughter can help.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to incorporate gratitude into each day. You could volunteer, for example; however, just like with most things, it is better to learn to walk before you can run. Commit to spending a month focusing on gratitude daily and revisit your thoughts following the experiment, and you might find some impressive results!

Gratitude and happiness are both nine letters in length = = there is a direct relationship between them.

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