There is one thing I can definitely say for gratitude, which is: it works.
Not works in the sense that if you can somehow be grateful enough, all you desire will be handed to you on a silver platter – although you never know.
Works, in the the sense that practicing it will definitely make you happier. Or at least, that’s how it works for me.
At first I wasn’t sure about all the hype, but I was curious. I’ve always liked the idea of gratitude practice, mostly because it’s a way of being “positive” that doesn’t require squashing negativity.
I mean, it’s totally possible to be angry or depressed and still find something real to feel grateful about, right? Anyway, I was intrigued, so I tested it out pretty extensively last winter.
I spent a month secretly devoting myself to gratitude practices, increasing the intensity every day.
It was a pretty good month. Or rather, it had its ups and downs like any month.
More ups and downs than most, actually. I got some money – not a remarkable amount, but more than I was expecting. Then I got a kidney infection, which got worse, and then it got better.
Then a week off, then some more money. Maybe I was just feverish, but the whole month did take on a sort of warm and magical glow.
Interactions with people, especially, seemed to go better than usual. The gratitude felt contagious.
Still, I got a bit burned out on all the exercises. At the end of the experiment I stopped suddenly and didn’t think much of it until the next day, when my partner asked me what was wrong.
Then the next day he asked again. The fact is, nothing was wrong, exactly – I had just stopped focusing on gratitude.
So, if you’re ok with the possibility of the people in your life getting used to a shinier, happier you, there are lots of different ways to practice gratitude. I’m thinking about it again right now because it’s a pretty good way to get through February.
write about it
A simple way to build up your gratitude is to keep a journal.
Fill a page every day with a list of things you’re thankful for. Try to make them quite specific, briefly describing how you feel about each entry so you can get a visceral sense of joy as you write (rather than rattling off a bunch of basic things you think you should appreciate more).
Try to include many different things, and remember to be grateful for the actions of the people in your life – including yourself.
focus on it
A simple method, especially if you already meditate, is to dedicate your practice to cultivating gratitude and focus on a deep internal sense of joy and abundance.
work on it
Work can be a great way of expressing gratitude (and a great way to save time, if you need to do it anyway).
You can be grateful for the people you live with by making dinner, for example. At work, you can be thankful for your job, your clients, or your own abilities.
It doesn’t have to be about a person, either – cleaning your living space is a great opportunity to be thankful for a place to live and all the things you use on a daily basis.
The bonus here is that the work you do often leads to results you can also be grateful for.
the buddy system
It’s theoretically popular, but overflowing gratitude can feel kind of awkward around other people. Sure, it’s great practice to thank your friends and family as often as possible, but when you’re working on the habit you might want a little more support than that.
If you start to feel like your Facebook is getting a little too full of all the things you love about your life, talk a friend or two into passing gratitudes back and forth.
This is actually really helpful for building energy and can have kind of a snowball effect.
I noticed the most powerful effects when I remembered to be grateful many times each day. You can build little reminders into your routine for this purpose.
For example, leave little notes in handy places, or carry some sort of charm that reminds you of your intention every time you notice it. You can also work on a practice where a particular action is a trigger for gratitude – for example, feeling grateful every time you take a bite of food.
Once you start to remember more easily, you can add more and more actions until you’re surrounded by gratitude triggers every day.
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