Practicing gratitude has become trendy. But that doesn’t make it any less important, meaningful or nourishing.
Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring or dismissing our pain. (Please give yourself plenty of permission to feel it.) It doesn’t mean painting on a positive face. It’s certainly not about pretending.
Rather practicing gratitude can be a spiritual, soulful activity. It can become a way we reconnect to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our world. It can provide us with much needed reminders. It can shift the shape of our day, our week, maybe even our month.
Below, you’ll find five powerful gratitude practices from the new book My Pocket Positivity: Anytime Exercises That Boost Optimism, Confidence and Possibility by Courtney E. Ackerman.
- Pen a letter of gratitude. Think about someone who’s done something kind for you but you haven’t yet thanked—anyone from a current colleague to a past classmate. Write a letter to them, and be as specific and detailed as possible about how they helped. Thank you for giving me that advice…Thank you for listening to me with such compassion while I was going through that awful time. Thank you for taking my daughter to school for an entire week while I was really sick. You can mail this letter, or you can keep it to yourself.
- Walk with gratitude. As you start your walk, focus on your desire to be grateful. Next let yourself take in every detail of your surroundings. Actually observe the scenery, whether you’re on the beach or on a busy city block. And express your gratitude (e.g., on a bustling street appreciating the sights of “two friends walking arm in arm, the blue sky peeking out around the buildings, and the birds chirping in the trees”).
- Complete these gratitude prompts. “Five things I saw today that I am grateful for;” “Five things I heard today that I am grateful for;” “Five things I smelled today that I am grateful for;” “Five things I tasted today that I am grateful for;” “Five things I touched today that I am grateful for;” “Five people that I am grateful for today;” “Five abilities I have that I am grateful for today.”
- Imagine yourself without. Identify one or two things that you’re incredibly thankful for, and if you didn’t have them, your life would be significantly different or difficult (e.g., your spouse, home, job). Next imagine that you don’t have these things, and think about what your life would be like. Then “imagine getting these things back one at a time, and allow yourself to experience a rush of gratitude for each thing.”
- Count your complaints. Carry a small notebook with you (or use your phone) to record how often you complain in a single day, either to yourself or out loud to someone else. At the end of the day, count the total number of times you complained. Then come up with an equal number of things you’re thankful for.
There are so many beautiful things, big and small, to be thankful for. You won’t always feel like doing a gratitude practice, and that’s totally OK. Listen to you heart. Let yourself feel and process whatever you need to feel and process.
But when you’re ready and when you find the specific practice that resonates with you, you just might also find some magic. In fact, maybe that’s a helpful way to think of a gratitude practice: the path to magic—a path that’s always there when you’re ready to walk it, a path that’s been there all along.