It’s funny to think that we need to learn (or at least be reminded of) how to practice gratitude, isn’t it? It seems like something that would just be natural.
But sometimes, you really need to dig for it. If you’re anxious or depressed, it’s harder to find things that are working out the way you want them to. Sometimes things can be working out even better than you want them to and still go unnoticed.
Other people may see these wonderful things in your life, but when you’re in a deep, dark funk, all you see are more things to go wrong. More things to prepare for. More things to expect the worst from. More people to let you down. More to juggle, more to resent, more to wish away so something else (that wouldn’t make you happy if you had it in this current state of mind anyway) could take its place.
So let’s stop.
How to Practice Gratitude: Gaining Momentum
The key to a happier life? Gratitude.
Wondering how to practice gratitude? It’s easier once you have some momentum, but even beginning isn’t that hard. I think I found sitting still to focus on my breath for 2 to 5 minutes at a time more challenging.
You may have some fear or resistance around it. If you do, that’s okay. You’ll get through it.
I have no idea what it’s called, but there’s a mental practice where you learn to get to the root of what you really think or feel (digging past the lies or excuses your mind might dish out defensively at first) by asking yourself the same question over and over. Maybe it’s worded the same way, maybe it’s worded differently. Each time you ask yourself the question, you write down the first answer that pops into your head.
By the time you’ve gotten to round five or six, you should have the real answer. Then you can figure out what to do with it from there. I’m using this as inspiration for how to practice gratitude (you’ll see in a minute), but if you do have some of that fear or resistance, using this method in the traditional way may help, too.
Ask, “What Am I Grateful For?”
Similarly, you can meander your way down a gratitude trail. Each segment of your day–and it can be as big (morning/evening) or as small (each step of your morning routine, your drive to work, each encounter with another person…) can be a step in this gratitude trail.
What if we started each day with a conversation that went like this:
- What am I grateful for? I woke up.
- What am I grateful for? The birds are chirping and it’s a such a joyful sound. I can see the first rays of sunlight through the blinds.
- What am I grateful for? I can see and hear and taste and feel and smell…
- What am I grateful for? I have a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head.
- What am I grateful for? Coffee.
- What am I grateful for? I can do anything I decide I want to do. The opportunities are endless in this beautiful life.
- What am I grateful for? The fresh new beginning I get with every sunrise.
That’s not exactly a straight path like the original journaling method I mentioned above, but it keeps you on track to look at the little things and then zoom out to a bigger picture if you choose to (or vice-versa).
If you don’t want to take the big picture view, that’s fine, too. Just naming a few small things you’re grateful for–even in list form, without repeating the question each time–can do incredible things for your mindset. Try it again at night as a bookend to your day.
Do it throughout the day. Look for things to be grateful for that you may not have acknowledged before. It gets easier as you go.
Adjust Your Focus and Expectations
I used to be afraid to even express gratitude for things because I was afraid that if I let myself get too happy or thankful over something, it’d either be taken away or something bad would happen to balance out those feelings of joy, happiness, and contentment. That worry was a pointless waste of energy. Everyone has positive and negative experiences.
Feeling joyful about something won’t make something else swoop down and knock it out of your life like a bully would smack a toy out of a smaller kid’s hand. Let yourself be grateful. Let yourself feel joy.
I don’t dwell on “preparing for the worst” and expecting it to happen anymore. Well, not as much. I can’t say those thoughts never try to sneak back in. Instead, I focus on learning to trust God and myself to handle whatever comes up.
I try to keep my attention on what I’m grateful for right now–little things, big things, silly things, tangible things, and intangible things–and expect good things.
What are you grateful for?