It’s that time of the year, when a lot of people talk about gratitude. A year-round gratitude practice is a brilliant idea, as you will see, so why not take the opportunity this week to start creating those habits? When you only focusing on gratitude for a day, a week, or a month, you do yourself a great disservice.
In numerous studies (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005; Lashani, Shaeiri, Asghari-Moghadam, & Golzari, 2012; Cheng, Tsui, & Lam, 2015), researchers found that writing about gratitude for 5 minutes a day increased participants’ long term happiness by 10%. It shifts your focus – the natural inclination is for the mind to focus on the negative, it’s part of our survival instincts. When we consciously focus on the positive, it counteracts that and can actually begin to shift our brain chemistry and relieves depression (Seligman et al., 2005; Krysinska, Lester, Lyke, & Corveleyn, 2015).
Other benefits of a gratitude practice include
Having a daily practice is, in my experience, the best plan, whether it’s meditation, prayer, ritual, or gratitude. It sets up the habit, helps you develop discipline, and keeps you focused. You are less likely to forget to practice gratitude if you’re focusing on it daily.
The simplest gratitude practice is simply to write a list. Write a list of what you’re grateful for. Write down everything you can think of, and then try to find 3 more. Or you could set a timer for 5-10 minutes, and keep writing until the timer goes off. Some people recommend starting by imagining your life without the things for which you are grateful.
Another good practice is to have a jar or box that you’ve decorated; I call mine the jar of awesome. At the end of your day, write a few things for which you are grateful on individual slips of paper and put them in the jar. This has the added benefit of being able to look at some of the papers if you’re feeling down, and jump start the gratitude process.
Here’s a fascinating gratitude practice: find or create an item, that can be help in the palm of your hand. Some people like to use river rocks. Carry it with you. Maybe take it out and set it on your desk while you’re at work. Every time you see it or touch it, think of something you’re grateful for. This practice keeps you grounded and present, and helps you focus on gratitude throughout the day.
You can also make a habit (practice) of letting the people in your life know why you appreciate them. This one is great, because you are literally sharing gratitude with another person. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone practiced this!
Part of the purpose for the Catholic tradition of eschewing meat on Fridays (it used to be a straight up fast) is to help generate gratitude for the things in life. Regularly shifting mealtimes to a more austere selection, and being present to the food while eating, brings you into the now and can help you see the bounty in your life.
You can, of course, some up with your own gratitude practice, and you can do a combination of the ones I’ve outlined. The point is that you would benefit from a daily gratitude practice; if you don’t currently have one, this would be an excellent week to rectify that.