Expert Advice on How to Practice Gratitude All Year Long
This is the season of gratitude. Thanksgiving is a recognition and celebration of our blessings, but you will find tremendous benefit in practicing gratitude all year long. I’ll admit, gratitude isn’t always easy. Sometimes our problems, daily struggles, worries, and imperfections cause us to lose sight of the good in our lives. Gratitude shifts the focus from problems to positives. It doesn’t mean our problems go away, but it helps to put our thinking back into balance.
There are a lot of good reasons to make a daily gratitude practice part of your life. According to Happify, people who practice gratitude regularly “experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.” Sign-me up! Seriously, all those benefits from something that’s quick, free, and easy is amazing.
Gratitude is called a practice because it requires practice.
In other words, you shouldn’t expect it to come naturally at first. But the more you practice, the easier it gets.
Make it a Habit.
Therapist Patty Behrens says, “Practicing gratitude not only takes intention but tangible prompts to remind yourself to be thankful. Connect to something you already do daily. Put a sticky note by your toothbrush to set your intention for the day. Add reminders on your phone to appear daily at a specific time.” Behrens also offers a fantastic 12 Day Gratitude Challenge that can be used year-round to establish a gratitude practice.
Ruth Spalding, of Live Well Counseling, encourages her clients to write notes of appreciation. She says, “even just a quick message via text or email” works well.
Holistic therapist, Jennifer Owens, practices random acts of kindness. “Write down some positive statements on post-it-notes and stick them somewhere where someone else will see them.” How about posting one on the office refrigerator or bathroom mirror? Owens also suggests leaving some notes for yourself around your home or in your car.
Write it down.
Writing things down reinforces learning and remembering (that’s why your teachers always wanted you to take notes). Ask yourself to “name one thing you are grateful for today. Actually write it down and spend some time thinking about [what you’re grateful for]. It only takes a few minutes but will bring awareness to you that there are aspects of life to be appreciative of, even when it doesn’t feel like it,” says therapist Erika Labuzan-Lopez.
Let’s think beyond a traditional gratitude journal and let your creative juices flow. You might try your hand at expressing gratitude through painting, writing a poem, singing, or dancing. Don’t let the need to do these things perfectly (or even well) stop you. The purpose is self-expression, not putting your painting in an art show. In fact, you don’t even have to share your creative expression with anyone. If it still feels too hard, how about blasting your favorite tunes, jumping around the room and feeling grateful for music you love, a few minutes of free time, and a body that can jump? Another idea that I love is to snap pictures of things that make you happy (maybe your dog, pretty flowers, or your kids). Keep them in an album on your phone and look through them regularly.
Debbi Carberry, a counselor in Australia, starts her day with this gratitude practice that incorporated mindfulness and grounding (often used to reduce anxiety). “I take some deep slow breaths and listen carefully to the birds outside. I concentrate just for a moment on the sounds I can hear. I try to work out just how many different birds are waking me. Rolling onto my back I take three deep breaths before I open my eyes. I focus my thoughts deliberately on how grateful I am for this day, for this morning, for this moment.”
Consider how you might adapt Carberry’s practice and make it your own by noticing and appreciating your surroundings. This shifts the focus from your internal struggles to the external world.
Be True to Yourself.
You don’t have to practice gratitude like everyone else. During the holidays it’s especially easy to be swallowed up by ideas of how we’re supposed to celebrate or give thanks. Labuzan-Lopez reminds you to “give yourself a break and be free to rejoice in ways that feel meaningful to you. If you find pleasure in taking a quiet walk and finding beauty in nature and the changing of the seasons, do that. Find ways to show appreciation in your own way and don’t judge yourself for not following the crowd or participating in expected ways.”
I hope this posts sparks your interest in the benefits of gratitude and that you can find your own way to let gratitude shift your focus (even just slightly) toward the positives.
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Martin, S. (2017). Expert Advice on How to Practice Gratitude All Year Long. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 17, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2015/11/expert-advice-on-how-to-practice-gratitude-all-year-long/