The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness is nothing new. Mainstream media has been touting its benefits for years (thank you Oprah!) and long term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in all areas of personal well being. In fact, researchers at the University of California, San Diego have shown that an attitude of gratitude can help to ease chronic stress which leads to improved immune function and a reduction in unhealthy inflammation in the body.
Unfortunately, despite the many proven benefits of gratitude, it can still be a difficult mindset to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives rather than appreciating our many blessings. We get so caught up in the yuck of life that we barely take the time to notice all of the good that we are blessed with.
This is why practicing an attitude of gratitude makes sense. Football players practice their sport to improve their odds of winning. Flute players practice their instrument so that they can produce the most beautiful music, kindergartners practice tying their shoes in order to stop tripping over their laces. The only way that we can become better at something is to practice it. The only way that gratitude will meet its full potential in our lives is if we practice it so that it, in time, becomes a habit.
When talking about gratitude, it is important to remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more of a matter of choosing where to put our focus and attention. Clearly, pain and injustice exist in this world–no one is denying that, but when we focus instead on the positive aspects of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and provides a sense of hopefulness. I also believe with all of my heart that the more I express gratitude for the positive things in my life, the universe answers by providing me with even more things to feel grateful for.
Don’t worry though-even if an attitude of gratitude isn’t your natural bent, you can still learn to cultivate more gratitude into your life and therefore experience its benefits…we all can. All it takes is a little (you guessed it) practice.
Seven FabYOUlous Steps for Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude.
1.) Choose the direction of your focus. In our current day and age, it can be very difficult to resist adopting a negative mindset. We are constantly bombarded with overly sensationalized news stories of disasters, scandals, famines, tragedies, wars etc. No wonder it can be so difficult to muster any feelings of gratefulness.
In order to cultivate a true attitude of gratitude, it is vital that we break away from the mentality of the masses and learn to think for ourselves. We must make a concentrated effort to filter the information that we are exposed to and take action by deliberately moving away from information sources that influence us in a negative way. This may mean turning off the evening news or reading and inspirational book in the morning with your coffee instead of your newspaper. This news-fast might seem difficult at first and you might worry about missing out on some important piece of news, but I can say from experience (I haven’t regularly watched any news programs or read a newspaper for years now) that I always seem to hear about the things that are truly important to me or that directly affect my life–even without being regularly plugged into any news media.
By not allowing ourselves to be continuously inundated with negativity, we allow room in our psyches for positive and inspirational messages and we open ourselves up to experiences that will truly leave us feeling grateful.
2.) Keep a gratitude journal. This doesn’t have to be complicated but it can be SO beneficial. All you need is a notebook and a pen so that you can write down the things for which you are grateful. You can journal essay style or simply make lists. You can make this a daily, weekly or monthly practice, though greater frequency will be better for establishing a new habit. My personal gratitude journal practice simply consists of me jotting down five things that I was grateful for that day. I do this at night before going to bed. Not only does this help me to re-focus on the positive aspects of my day, it also helps me to release any anxiety from the day, therefore allowing me to relax into a peaceful sleep. I also love taking time to go back through my old entries and remembering the things that I was thankful for in the past. Heck, even just looking at the outside of my gratitude journal is enough to remind me to think in a grateful way.
3.) Make a gratitude collage. I’m more of a writer than I am an artist so the gratitude journal holds more appeal for me personally. However; if you prefer to express yourself in a more artistic way, you may want to try your hand at making a gratitude collage. You can use photos that you paste or your own artwork to represent things in your life that you are grateful for. I have a very artistic friend who has created a gorgeous collage that she framed and has hanging in her office so that she can look at it whenever feelings of negativity begin to creep in. She says that the act of creating the collage was very therapeutic but so is the simple act of gazing at it when she’s feeling upset or anxious.
4.) Practice gratitude around the dinner table. When you sit down to a meal with your family, take turns going around the table and having each person state three things that they are grateful for in that moment. Not only will this boost your own feelings of gratefulness, it will also help your family members to establish their own gratitude practice.
5.) Train yourself to notice the good. Have you ever had the opportunity to go panning for gold? I’ve done it a few times but I have some good friends who do it regularly. Most of the time, their pans are filled with rubble and yet that doesn’t bother them in the least. It doesn’t bother them because they aren’t focused upon the worthless rubble. They are so intent on finding something sparkly that they don’t even notice the sand and gravel in their pan–and when they do find a bit of sparkle among the rubble they get SO excited.
There’s no denying that it can be a challenge to find the good in some situations, but focusing your attention upon the sparkle in your life rather than upon the rubble is a skill that can be learned. Simply make it a goal for yourself to find something to appreciate about every person, situation or experience that you encounter. The more you make the effort to find the good, the less effort it will begin to take.
6.) Pick your friends and associates wisely. Just as you need to take control of the negative messages coming into your life via the media, you also need to take control of the negative influences entering your life via the people that you choose to associate with. When trying to cultivate a greater sense of gratitude in your life, you should strive to seek out individuals whose dominant tendency is to be positive and uplifting while also minimizing your contact with individuals who dwell on negatives. Simply surrounding yourself with more upbeat and appreciative individuals can help you to more quickly cultivate your own positive and grateful attitude.
7.) Notice how your new gratitude practice is impacting your life. Once you’ve established a new and consistent gratitude practice, you will begin to notice the benefits. Be sure to make note of these differences and more importantly–express your gratitude for them.