Although November is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States, practicing gratitude regularly is such an important part of how we view ourselves, others, and the world.
William James said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. “
So many times, people become discontent with their lives and surroundings and even their thoughts. There are so many social media platforms utilizing marketing strategies to make us feel inadequate, so we not only spend MORE time online but also spend more money. The message rings loud and clear: We are not good enough! If this is the message we are getting, no wonder it is hard to feel gratitude in the little things day to day.
How many times have you found yourself saying, “If only _________ then I could be happy .“ The problem is, that if we get caught up in this way of thinking we will never be happy because there is always something more we will think we need to complete our lives. It is so easy to get stuck on the things we don’t have, which can actually create more stress in our bodies.
So how can we turn it around?
In The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness written by Dr Amit Sood, he talks about the “secret” to improve sleep, enhance our mood, boost our energy levels and even make more money. The secret, he says is:
A daily gratitude practice. Indeed, counting your blessings each day has been shown to significantly increase your happiness — and your physical health. In addition to helping you get more sleep, practicing gratitude can boost your immunity and decrease your risk of disease.
I did not realize the benefits of gratitude until I started implementing ways to practice gratitude regularly. When we sit and think about all the things we want but don’t have, or think about all the things that didn’t go well throughout the day, we can set ourselves up in a downward spiral of disappointment and negative thinking which can lead to stress and depression. Focusing on feeling, recognizing, and honoring gratitude on the other hand, can change our current mood very quickly, lower our stress and ultimately give us a clearer focus on our life and how amazing it is. We can be more content with what we have and therefore our attitude will bring us a spirit of peace and joy.
I was reading an article online from Positive Psychology and there was a study done by McCraty and colleagues (1998) where a group of adults were taught to “cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions.”
This study ultimately showed a significant decrease in stress. 80% of those that participated “exhibited an increased coherence in heart rate variability patterns, indicating reduced stress. In other words, these findings suggest that people with an ‘attitude of gratitude’ experience lower levels of stress.”
I have also experienced in my own life, and seen in my clients, that once intentional practices of gratitude become habits, that gratitude is just felt and seen more regularly!
I loved a study I read that was done at Berkeley University. They worked with 300 students who were currently dealing with issues related to depression and anxiety and were already seeking mental health counseling services through the school.
The students were divided into three groups, and over the course of three weeks, one group was assigned to write a letter of gratitude once a week to another person, the second group was asked to write their sincere thoughts about negative experiences and the third group did not do either.
The study found that those students who wrote regular letters of gratitude reported overall better mental health four weeks later and then again twelve weeks after the study. This study showed that focusing on gratitude can be beneficial for all, not just those who are healthy and currently mentally balanced.
You can read more about this study HERE.
I LOVE both these studies so much because they validate what I have experienced with my own gratitude practice and what my clients are experiencing in their own lives as well. You too can experience this!
Here are my top five things that YOU can implement today to experience a genuine attitude of gratitude.
1. Gratitude Journal
Before bed, write down the things you are grateful for and the things that went well for you during the day. I recommend my clients to use a special journal for this, that isn’t a daily log or a place where you are writing down all the little details about your life. Start small with even three things! This is a great thing to do before bed to help your body get ready for sleep. I like to go back and look over my entries over the years and find so much strength reading over the days that have the simplest entries. There is one day that all I wrote is: I am grateful for the sun that shines.” This was probably a hard day and the details of the day no longer matter but I find so much joy that I was able to end the day recognizing at least one thing I was grateful for.
2. Gratitude Letters
Both studies I mentioned above mention gratitude letters. The Berkely study had their participants write just ONE letter a week! That was enough of a difference to see a significant improvement in overall mental wellbeing. Set aside one day a week to write a letter to someone special to you. You can send it in the mail, email it, or maybe you just send it by text.
3. Gratitude Affirmations
In the morning, say some gratitude affirmations out loud before you start your day. There are plenty online you can find, but here are a few of my favorites:
- I am filled this gratitude this new day
- I effortlessly invite gratitude into my heart
- Thank you for this new day and all the beautiful possibilities that are waiting for me
- I am grateful for this body that allows me to live another day and I choose to honor it today
- I am grateful for all the things I have that bless my life and the amazing people that I choose to surround myself with
- Today I will honor an attitude of gratitude in the choices I make, in the opportunities I have and in my interactions with others
- I am grateful for all the beauty around me
- I invite unlimited gratitude into my heart and my life this day
- I am grateful for where my life has brought me and honor where I am right now
- Thank you God for all the blessings that surround me and my life this new day
4. Gratitude Jar
You can take some time to write down things that you are grateful for, once each on a strip of paper and put it in a jar. This is a wonderful activity to do with your children and even extended family if you are gathering for a dinner or for the Thanksgiving holiday. Each day pull out one piece of paper and read it. If you have children, this is a great thing to do during breakfast before school or at dinnertime. It creates opportunities for meaningful conversations where everyone, no matter their age, can experience a few minutes of focused gratitude.
5. Gratitude Prayer
This is something I often mention to clients that have already been practicing other things on this list. It is taking time to pray intentionally just expressing gratitude without asking God for anything in return. Again, this is a beautiful thing to do before bed and helps calm the body and mind and prepare for sleep. It is powerful when we can express gratitude without expecting anything in return.
There is always something we can find to be grateful for.
I know this sounds simplistic and I know that there are always things that many of us truly need…but if we start changing our attitudes and develop an attitude of gratitude then we will be in a better position to allow our positive thoughts to direct us in a way in which we can achieve more.
Developing an attitude of gratitude really will support you towards attaining the things you want in your life.
Rumi has said it best:
Even After All this time The Sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look What happens With a love like that, It lights the whole sky
Let us learn to develop positive thoughts that light the sky and ultimately help us achieve our goals. I really believe that gratitude is the bridge towards where we are currently and everything we desire. We do not have to wait until Thanksgiving comes around each year to express thanks to others or to have a sense of gratitude. Intentionally doing things like my top five suggestions above, can really support you experiencing a life with a beautiful daily attitude of gratitude.