We’re halfway through November and those “30 days of gratitude” posts are sprinkled throughout the social media feed. It’s one more way we fit centuries of tradition into our modern lives.
Giving thanks is steeped in our history as an American people… We all have our own ways of doing this, whether it’s speaking about what we’re thankful for when family and friends gather for turkey or something you do on your own.
Thank goodness we have a holiday that puts gratitude front and center. There is so much research out there now on why this little practice of giving thanks is healing and changing lives for the better. Gratitude helps us choose joy over fear and conscious presence over anxiety.
That sounds like something we always need though, doesn’t it? What if gratitude wasn’t just a “Thanksgiving thing”? What if you made it part of your 365 daily routine?
“Practice” is a word we associate with what you do after school when you’re on the football team or what you’re supposed to do each day if you play the piano. In truth, it’s a big, powerful word that holds nearly unlimited potential.
Let’s look at a couple quick definitions. Practice, as a noun is described as:
“repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.”
“the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.”
The decision to bold the text is my own because I want to give you a chance to think about how any good practice, especially a practice of gratitude, is about committing yourself day in and day out to doing something each day, rather than thinking you should.
The good news, the “doing” of a gratitude practice is as easy as thinking grateful thoughts.
All you need to do is pay attention to the moment that you are in, instead of the “what ifs.” When you really do this, it reminds you that while you can’t control a lot in life, you can be grateful for the blessings that come through in the moment.
Build your own practice of gratitude
Gratitude can change your life and rewire your brain – really. So, how can you practice more gratitude in your life so that you can lean into the joy more fully? You have a lot of options, so it’s important that you find what works for you.
1. The first option is a gratitude journal. What this journal looks like is up to you. You can buy journals that are specific to gratitude with prompts throughout or you can just take out a notebook and pen and make a list. The point is to take time each day, hopefully around the same time, to write three things you are grateful for. This can be as long or as short as you want, just try and be as specific as possible. Doing this practice will slowly train your brain to notice and pay attention to what and where you are finding joy.
2. Create a Gratitude Jar. I have yet to do this one, but I am hoping to start in the new year. The idea is that you have a jar that you turn into your gratitude keeper for the year. Every time you experience a moment of joy, take a moment to write it on a small slip of paper and put it in the jar. Then you pull out all the slips and read them, often on New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving. This can be done individually or as a family. Kids and parents alike can add things into the jar to be read and shared. This makes those moments we write about, no matter how big or small, that much more important.
3. One thing I actually have started doing at our dinner table is to go around the table with our kids each night, stating what we are thankful for that day. This can get pretty interesting and the answers range from being grateful for something we did that day to being grateful for ketchup – it’s all valid! I want my kids to start to notice and pay attention to these little daily parts of our lives and family dinner is always a good place to start.
4. One thing I often work with my clients on is a gratitude letter. Give yourself a chance to acknowledge someone that means very much to you but that you haven’t yet appropriately thanked. You write in the letter very specifically what the person did that makes you so grateful and then you deliver it to them either by phone or in person, if possible. The positive effects are pretty powerful for both of you and are long lasting as well.
There are many other ways to practice gratitude in your life, these are just a few that I have found helpful and that the research also supports. The important thing here again, is the paying attention. Being present and giving thanks on a daily basis is a gateway to connection, mental health and spiritual health.
If you’re just not able to find a sense of joy and fulfillment in practices like these, you might be suffering from something that requires help. Sometimes finding anything to be grateful for can feel like a monumental task.
Grief, loss, depression and anxiety can all make us feel like we are drowning with no light at the end of the tunnel. Talking with and sharing your struggles can help you to pay attention to the light and joy that is there.