- Melanie Lopes, MFT
Making Gratitude a Regular Practice
You're probably aware that making a regular habit of reminding yourself of those things that you are grateful for has a lot of benefits - it can make a positive difference in how you feel, how you interact with others, and how you view your circumstances and the world around you.
The thing is, sometimes it can be hard to think of things that you are grateful for, especially in the midst of a crisis, or a significant loss, or during stressful or challenging times when you are dealing with overwhelming or difficult emotions.
You might be so focused on the problems and struggles that you feel like there's no room for gratitude and that giving thanks would feel too fake or forced. Or maybe you cringe at the thought of trying to find the time and energy to create a new habit when you've already got so much on your plate. It might feel like too much of a chore...
But the truth is, those are the times when gratitude can really help.
You see, by simply taking a few moments to focus your attention on what you are grateful for and allow yourself to really feel the gratitude, you are actually helping to generate more positive feelings, which can bring you:
Soothing and relief
More joy & happiness
Affirmation & encouragement
Gratitude interrupts patterns of negative thinking and shifts your focus to what you have, what you can gain, and what’s working, rather than only focusing on what's missing, lacking, disappointing, or not working. It also gives you a chance to pay attention to and appreciate the little things in life, which helps you create and retain more positive memories while building optimism and hope.
When you can remember to practice gratitude you also give yourself the opportunity to see the bigger picture - you can see the blessings and silver linings, and the pros in addition to the cons - so you have a more balanced perspective. With this perspective, you can help calm your worries and fears and be less driven towards impulsive decisions and acts of desperation that can sometimes set you back and keep you stuck.
So what if you're really struggling to find what you're feeling grateful for?
Below are a number of prompts to help you along. You can use these as journal prompts or simply take some time to think about one or more of them. Then keep reading to learn some tips to help you start putting gratitude into regular practice.
Even with these prompts, if you are still struggling to find gratitude in the moment, it's important to remember to not let it discourage you and don't give up! Just give yourself a break and try again later. It’s ok. That’s why it’s called a gratitude practice - you have to keep practicing it just like learning an instrument or a sport and you’re going to have some off days where everything seems hard.
And as with any practice, you have to be consistent in order to see the best results.
Here are some ways to help you start putting gratitude into regular practice:
Schedule time for gratitude practice.
It helps if you come up with a consistent time to practice gratitude each day. Schedule it in the morning or evening before bed, or whenever is a good time for you. Put a reminder in your calendar and set aside the time – it only takes a minute or two. Use the time to think of what you are grateful for or appreciate.
Create reminders for yourself.
If scheduling a specific time for a gratitude practice is not for you, then set up some sort of visual cue so that when you see it you take a moment to think of things you are grateful for. It can be an object, a place, or a sticky note, or really anything to remind you.
For example, a couple of years ago part of my commute to work involved driving across a bridge so I decided that every time I crossed the bridge I would think of something I was grateful for - it was simple and easy to incorporate into my routine.
Replace complaints and worries with thanks.
Catch yourself when you are in a complaining or worrying mode and when that happens, use it as a cue to remember gratitude. Much like seeing a visual reminder, if you observe yourself complaining or worrying, that’s your cue to give thanks.
Try using guided meditations focused on gratitude as a part of your gratitude practice. There are a number of different gratitude meditations out there on YouTube or any of the meditation apps, or you can try this one that I've included here:
Challenge yourself to 30 days of gratitude.
If you're up for the challenge, take time each day for the next 30 days to think of at least 5 things you are grateful for. You can write the five things down or simply think of them, but be sure to give yourself a moment to really feel the gratitude while you focus on each thing. That way you're not just rattling off a list, you're giving yourself the experience of gratitude.
And remember, you don’t have to come up with big or profound things to be grateful for – it can be as simple as being grateful for your coffee in the morning or the air you are breathing.
At the end of the 30 days, see if you notice anything different in how you’re feeling or how you’re thinking. At the very least, you might start to notice that you are more aware of the things you are grateful for throughout the day, and as you continue to recognize all that you are grateful for, you are able to keep things in perspective and keep moving forward.
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