The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.
But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. And for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time.
That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.
Remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.
There are many things to be grateful for: warm summer days, a beautiful flower, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, chocolate, fresh eggs, warm jackets, tomatoes, the ability to read, roses, our health, butterflies. What’s on your list?
Some Ways to Practice Gratitude
- Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
- Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
- Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
- Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
- When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel.
- Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.
As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.
Patricia’s Gratitude Practice
Since completing the course by Lynne Twist and Brother David Steindel Rast, The Transformative Power of Sufficiency and Gratefulness, I have become more deliberate with my gratitude practice over the past few months. I find it has become a daily part of both appreciating and letting go before going to sleep at night.
Prior to taking this course I had come across some research to suggest that writing down three things for which you are grateful is optimal when done once every three days or so. I had been doing this for a couple of years. What I found with this is it became hit or miss. I would forget and go a week or two, then become more diligent about it. The other part of this was it became repetitive. Just writing things for which you are grateful, while beneficial and important, I found it lacked depth. I was writing the same things over and over, which is not a bad thing, but it was almost as if I became rote about it or desensitized to it.
I was impressed with Lynne Twist’s practice that she said she has done for many years and has hundreds of journals filled with gratitude. What a legacy! Can you imagine someone important to you leaving their journals of gratitude for you to read? Firstly I think it would be amazing to see what this person felt about their lives. Secondly, it would be inspiring to look at my own lifeI know when I read over mine, I get a sense of joy and… your guessed it of course gratitude for what I have experienced in my life.
For a couple of months now I have been doing what Lynne said she has been doing for many years now. One of the last things at night before going to sleep she writes three things that happened that day for which she is grateful and then she adds the piece that I find the most interesting and deepening, the because or the why.
I would like to show you the difference between what I wrote before learning of Lynne Twist’s approach. An entry I made before was “ I appreciate people in my life that have had a positive influence in my life”. A similar entry after shows greater depth “ I am grateful for people who have had a positive influence in my life because it makes me think and feel differently and gives me a sense of being able to do more with my life”. When I reread each of these I get a different feeling. With the first I feel positive. With the second it feels a little deeper and more positive. It connects with what is important to me, both gratitude and the reasons behind it, the why, my purpose, vision of who I am in my life. Try it yourself and see what happens.
I do go back periodically, once a week or so, to read what I wrote and in the recommended approach by Dr. Rick Hansen, savor the feeling I had at the time of writing for ten seconds or more. It gives another sense of gratitude.
Here is the link to further information on gratitude practices