Thanksgiving can be a great time to take stock of the goodness in our lives, but for some of us, the ol’ “attitude of gratitude” fades quickly as we transition back to the daily grind. And that’s too bad, because gratitude is associated with a variety of benefits to our physical health, mental well-being and relationships.
I’ve been working on making gratitude my MO, in part because I’m striving to live more in the present. According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, gratitude encourages us to appreciate “momentary good things and experiences, as well as more global benefits and gifts” that we often take for granted. (FYI, the Center offers a bunch of useful online courses and tools, some of which are free.) This is why I often talk about the idea of gratitude in the yoga classes I teach. Recognizing what it is about our lives that we’re thankful for today is a way to tune in to and celebrate the good stuff that’s right in front of us. It’s a way to make the idea of “living in the moment” — one of the goals of yoga — less abstract.
Part of why I’ve been struggling to live with a gratitude mindset is that it’s difficult to develop and maintain active gratitude habits and practices. In “The Gifts of Imperfection,” vulnerability researcher and public-speaking badass Brené Brown explains that “there are a whole bunch of verbs involved” when the people she’s studied talk about gratitude, and that people who’ve cracked the gratitude code are joyful as a result, not the other way around. In other words, gratitude requires action — it’s not a mindless state of being.
So I’ve been testing, reading about and crowdsourcing different ways to extend my gratitude perspective beyond Thanksgiving weekend. Below is a mix of potential paths toward cultivating a gratitude practice that you may find useful if you’re on a similar quest. I should note that while many of these are evidence-based, their staying power is still up for debate, and they don’t work for everyone.
If you have other ideas, please share in the comments section below, or holler at us on social media!
Start a gratitude journal
Spend a few minutes at least three times per week writing about what you’re thankful for, even if it’s as simple as the good-quality sleep you got last night. I recently started doing this at the end of every day. It provides an opportunity for me to reflect on the day and transition from screen time to sleep. (There are Android and iPhone apps for this if you prefer to journal on your phone.) I could also see this being an awesome way to start your day; for example, Jen uses her morning subway commute to reflect and journal about the day before, and she swears by it as a way to jumpstart a positive, present day.
Keep a gratitude jar at home or at work
Each day, write one thing you’re grateful for on a small piece of paper, fold it and place it in a jar, bowl or whatever receptacle you have handy. At the end of the year you’ll have a jar filled with 365 things you’re grateful for. Keeping the jar in a place where you’ll see it daily can be a powerful visual reminder of all the good stuff you’ve got right in front of you. And there’s no reason you have to wait until the end of the year to open it — if you’re having a crappy day, pull one of the pieces of paper out and read what it says.
Contemplate death every once in awhile
Studies suggest that when we visualize our own death or think about the potential loss of a loved one, we feel more grateful. Sounds morbid, I know, but apparently it works for some people. I’ve been experimenting with this using the $0.99 WeCroak app on my phone for the past two months. I get three or four notifications daily on my phone saying, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” When I click on the notification, the app displays a meaningful quote about death, life, love, etc. Some of the quotes are more relevant than others, and I think one notification per day would suffice (I ignore them sometimes because they feel excessive), but they always remind me of my gratitude goal.
Express your gratitude
Recent studies from McCombs School of Business and Booth School of Business demonstrate that writing thank-you letters or emails is a tangible way to practice gratitude that it boosts the well-being of both the recipient AND the sender.
Leave yourself gratitude quotes
Pin a gratitude quote to your bathroom mirror, or display it somewhere in your car or workspace. Here are some of my favorites if you need inspiration:
- “This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before.” — Maya Angelou
- “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptable, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It turns problems into gifts, failure into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie
- “Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.” — Robert Emmons
Meditate or pray about the things you’re thankful for
If you have a meditation or prayer practice, consider spending part of that time thinking about the things you’re grateful for.
Gratitude can contribute to living a fuller and more joyful life. Pausing to savor the good times and the things that matter to us has an impact on how we experience our lives day to day. I’m working on making gratitude more of a guiding principle in my life, as opposed to a ritual I save for Thanksgiving and other special occasions. Care to join me?
(None of the content in this article is sponsored.)