This past Saturday, September 21, 2019 was World Gratitude Day. I’m a couple days past acknowledging this, but gratitude isn’t reserved for simply this one day (and Thanksgiving). Gratitude is an incredibly important daily practice that can drastically improve life quality.
It’s so common to get caught up in the day to day rat race. Going through the motions. Wishing things were different. Dreading Monday. Dreading any morning. Feeling sorry for ourselves. Feeling helpless and hopeless. Struggling to get unstuck. Not being at all present in our lives.
Gratitude helps with all of the above and goes hand in hand with mindfulness. In order to be grateful, we have to be firmly planted in the now. And being grateful puts us in the present moment.
This is beyond easy when things are going our way. Free trip around the world. So much gratitude! Dream job. Check, gratitude! Marry the love of your life. Heart swells with gratitude.
It’s also our natural reaction when we experience beauty in its purest sense. Or when it’s unexpected. The sunrise and sunset. Baby animals (and humans). The leaves changing with autumn and flowers poking the dirt in the spring. The smell of earth after a fresh rainfall. A brilliant work of art, piece of writing, dance, or movie. A beautiful dress or piece of furniture. The smell of bread (or anything) baking. Also, unexpected kindness. When someone gives us a thoughtful gift. Shows us some love. We feel gratitude.
But nothing lasts forever. Everything is always changing. Things don’t always go according to our expectations. Life likes to surprise us. Yet, we don’t always like the surprises so we cling to or push things away, and with that also gratitude.
Perspective makes all the difference in our lives. That is what determines whether our life will be filled with struggle or joy. And gratitude is a perspective that always leads to more joy. Judgment is what gets in the way of experiencing gratitude. Judgment tells us that something needs to be a certain way, which doesn’t leave any room for the powers that be to do what they do.
While I’m naturally a “look for the positive” kind of gal, I didn’t grow up with that being encouraged much in me. So at times I find it really difficult. It can be easier to immediately focus on the difficulties than to recognize what’s going well. I have to be especially mindful of this and frequently bring myself back to the intention to find gratitude. When I’m able to do this, life is infinitely easier and sweeter.
I have bunches of ways that I try to do this.
I have the “The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal: A Five-Year Record,” which I didn’t write in consistently for years, but this year have managed to write in nearly every night right before I go to sleep. This has kept me accountable to find something each day that I’m grateful for. It’s also fun to read about how I’ve spent my days in the past, which motivates me to continue to write in it daily now.
You can journal however you wish, though. Sometimes I write about the things I’m grateful for in my morning pages. Some people simply keep a list. Some write in a beautiful notebook. Some on their phone. I keep a list on my phone too in case I need a reminder that my life isn’t falling apart. There’s no right or wrong way to record the things you’re grateful for.
Share with Others
Tell others what you’re grateful for. Tell others you’re grateful for them. I’m blessed to be surrounded by generally positive, uplifting souls. Our conversations are often centered around the things we’re grateful for without having an intentional practice to do so. That doesn’t mean that we don’t complain at times or share our struggles, but we more quickly help one another move toward what is positive in our lives so that we don’t get caught up in the downward spiral of yuck.
You could start a group gratitude practice. You could strive to share more gratitude with others and see how they respond. You can write letters. Send cards. Post on social media. Do something nice for someone else. The idea is however you can share gratitude with others so that you have a support system out there for when you aren’t feeling so grateful.
Gratitude Walks/Runs/Bike Rides/Drives
Some days when I’m really not feeling it, when nothing seems to be going my way, I’ll get outside and start moving in some way with the intention of noticing what I like around me. I don’t always actually feel grateful when I do this. Sometimes it’s like, “I know I should like this blue house or wild plant or cute dog,” but it just isn’t happening. Still, if I keep it up I usually feel at least a little better than when I started. Which is the point.
I also try to do this in every moment of my life. When I can remember to. Which certainly isn’t always. But I try to make a regular practice of finding things to be grateful for. Like a personal scavenger hunt.
The really advanced version of this is when you can find gratitude in the unpleasant, difficult, and painful moments. When you really dislike where you are in life. You hate your job or your family is driving you nuts. Or you lose your job and/or your home, get divorced, or a loved one passes on. The times when life as you know it has ended.
Now, I’m not saying you should feel all cheery and say things like, “Oh I’m so happy this happened to me” with a gigantic exclamation point when that’s not at all what you’re experiencing. Feel the sadness, anger, disappointment, all the pain. Curse the world if you have to. But if you can also find something to be grateful for during the most difficult times, such as the supportive people in your life, your cat, or even that you could simply get out of bed in the morning, that will help you heal over time.
Actually, some of the most grateful periods of my life have also been some of the most difficult. Times when things were so out of my control that the only thing I could control was my attitude.
When I suffered a major knee injury and was out of commission for several months, I definitely wasn’t stoked that I was injured, my health insurance hadn’t kicked in yet, and had to have surgery. But there also wasn’t anything I could do about it. I couldn’t go back and uninjure myself or change the insurance rules. I had to accept it and figure out a way to survive both the physical pain and the emotional pain.
Gratitude became my go to. I felt grateful for the small things: ice cream, good books, Netflix, creating art. I also felt grateful for the big things: a strong support system, money to pay for medical care, a job I enjoyed that I could still work at even while injured, and the opportunity to let go of ego associated with my physical capabilities (That one was really difficult.). And even though the surgery and recovery were difficult too, I felt immense gratitude after. Gratitude that the problem was fixed so I no longer felt pain, that I was able to fully recover and go back to most of my old activities, and that I learned that I can handle challenges with grace and evolve into a better human being.
While there’s definitely still a part of me that hopes I don’t have to deal with anymore trying times, I also know that’s not realistic. So really my hope is that I’ll be able to remember the past challenges and how much gratitude helped me navigate those. And continue to cultivate a regular practice of gratitude so that it supports me all throughout all of my life and makes it easier when times are more difficult. And to keep that ball rolling, some things I’m grateful for in this moment are that I get to work from home today on some of my creative projects with my dog sleeping next to me, it was a cloudy morning, and now the sun is shining and the birds are enthusiastically singing. What are you grateful for today?
This post is for informational purposes and not meant to be a replacement for professional mental health treatment.