practicing gratitude

Practicing Gratitude For a Happier Healthier You.

I thought that since it was Thanksgiving here in the US last week, that it would be appropriate to focus on gratitude this week. Gratitude is one of those awesome things that can be really beneficial for you while also being free. Win-win!

There have been a lot of studies about gratitude and its effect on mental health. It’s been linked to lessening the effects of depression, better sleep, less anxiety, and even improving relationships. I’d say those are plenty of good reasons to at least give it a try, wouldn’t you?

“It can’t hurt to try.”

About three years ago, I started toying around with a gratitude practice after my therapist suggested it. I was feeling really down and had pretty much given up on the idea of being happy again when he challenged me to start a gratitude journal. He wanted me to write down three things that I was grateful for every night before going to bed. I remember almost laughing at how ridiculous I thought it was. Three things? I couldn’t even think of one thing to be grateful for! It was everything I could do just to get out of bed in the morning! Despite me reminding him of this, he insisted that I try it for at least a week. He told me it couldn’t hurt to try, and that if it didn’t help, we’d come up with something else to try at our next session.

I was skeptical, but I tried it. And it works.

I remember thinking that I didn’t want to waste my money on a new journal just for this practice that I was sure wouldn’t help me, so I started out just dedicating a corner of a page in my regular journal to it. And that first night, I sat there for probably a good half hour chewing on my pen cap thinking about how stupid it was and how I was wasting my time. But I’m a determined person and I’d felt like he challenged me to do this. I wasn’t going to give up!

It took me a really long time to come up with three things but I finally managed.

They were silly little things. I was grateful for having a TV in my bedroom so that I could distract myself from all of the crap running through my mind without even having to get out of bed. I was grateful for the fact that there was a really good Chinese food place in walking distance from my house because it meant I could easily get my hands on some eggrolls. And I was grateful for my heated blanket which was almost always wrapped around me.

They weren’t crazy deep or meaningful, but I had done it. I had found my three things. The second night was harder and again, it took me a long time to find three things to show gratitude for, but eventually I found a few more basic things to write down that made my life a little more convenient. By the third night, it started getting easier and my gratitudes started getting a little deeper. After that first week, I wasn’t sure if it was actually helping me or not yet, but it was starting to become a practice that I didn’t have to think so hard about starting. Some days were harder than others- I really had to dig deep. Other days, I’d find myself repeating something I’d mentioned before. But I never stopped doing it.

Three years later, I know it helps me.

I’ve changed my process a bit over time. I don’t always write down three things nowadays, but I always write down at least one thing. I’ve also gotten a journal specifically for my gratitude practice. I highly recommend this because now, on hard days, I can flip through it and see the highlights of all of the things I should be grateful for and it’s like cliff notes on reasons in my life to be happy. A running list of reasons to smile.

I’ve also changed it so that instead of just writing what I’m grateful for, I write why.
  • For example, I am grateful for my daughter because she inspires me to be a better and stronger person.
  • I’m grateful for my mother because despite having her own set of hardships to deal with, she will always take the time to get on the phone and listen to me when I need to cry or vent or talk something through.
  • I am grateful for my husband, because he always cleans up the dog poop, takes out the trash, kills all of the spiders, and all of the other gross things that I don’t want to do.
  • I’m grateful for the pizza place in town because they deliver and sometimes I’m just too tired to cook.

Sometimes I can get really deep and sometimes I can’t. It depends on the day I’ve had. But I always take the time to find one good thing. It helps renew my faith in life and in the world.

That’s really what gratitude is.

It’s acknowledging the good. Appreciating and recognizing the things you have in your life. This helps you to focus on those good things rather than letting yourself drown in the bad or sad. It helps you to cultivate a better outlook and to actually change your mindset so that you start thinking more positively.  I’m a firm believer now that when you put positive vibes out into the universe, you attract more positive things your way.  This is a really easy way to help do that.

Gratitude can help you to be more optimistic and to actually look for good things in your life. Seeing more good can help to alleviate stress, which carries over into how you feel physically. Letting go of some of your everyday stresses can help feel like a weight leaving your shoulders, allowing you to be happier and lighter and even sleep better.

There are going to be some people that this doesn’t work for. After all, there are exceptions to every rule. But if there’s even a chance that it could make your life easier or more fulfilling, isn’t it worth taking a few minutes each day to try? That’s all it takes- a few minutes every day- to possibly be happier and more in love with your life and with yourself.

how to get started:

There are a lot of ways to start a gratitude practice. You can start off like me and just jot down a few things each night in your journal. You can use a notes app on your phone or even record a quick voice memo. Or maybe you want to dive right in and get a journal specifically for this- again this is a great thing to have on hand for bad days. You can practice them verbally by telling someone in your life what you’re grateful for or you can write actual thank you cards to people who you are grateful for. Things like prayer or meditation can be used to work with gratitude purely in your mind or maybe you write something down on a post-it note and put it somewhere you will see often.

There are a lot of different ways to try practicing gratitude.

You can try one or two or all of them until you find which one works best for you.

I’d love to hear all about it and how it makes you feel.

I’m grateful that you took the time to read this, and please feel free to reach out if you want to discuss it further!

(And if you’re looking to get a custom gratitude journal, be sure to check out my etsy shop!)

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