With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m seeing a lot of gratitude related articles and social posts floating around. I think gratitude is actually one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal when it comes to cultivating a greater sense of happiness and optimism in our lives, but I also think it’s a tool that doesn’t come easily to many people! As humans, we are wired to default to the negative, and gratitude forces us to make a shift from what we perceive to be not so great to the positive.
It might be easy enough to think about things we appreciate, but actually expressing appreciation and having the ability to find the good in or reframe any situation is much more difficult. This is where establishing a regular gratitude practice can come in handy!
Just like any new workout program does, gratitude practice takes constant effort and consistency in order to see results.
It’s called a practice for a reason, after all!
I remember a very distinct moment in a training session when one of my clients asked me, “have you always been this positive?” I think she was just adjusting to my habit of reframing a situation. 😉
But my answer was no, actually. Not at all. There was a time in my life when my best friend actually had to talk to me about how my negative vibes were affecting our friendship and living environment. That sucked. That sucked hard. But I am so grateful (see what I did there?) for that sucky conversation and time in my life because it helped me take a step back. That conversation is what prompted me to actually face some uncomfortable things instead of always push them aside and play victim. That conversation is what opened me up to doing some real mindset work instead of remaining at surface level. And gratitude played a big role in this.
It wasn’t until gratitude became a constant in my life that so many things changed for me:
I stopped comparing myself so much to others
…because gratitude allowed me to finally appreciate things about myself.
I stopped worrying so much about situations I couldn’t control
…because gratitude taught me I would have the ability to handle unexpected situations as they came up and still be okay.
I saw improved relationships with the people I cared the most about
…because gratitude helped me become happier and in turn more enjoyable to be around.
I let go of toxic relationships that no longer served me
…because gratitude helped me identify what I would and would not stand for in my life.
I saw improved self-confidence
…because practicing gratitude was completely out of my comfort zone, and it gave me the courage to try other new to me things and take on new opportunities.
I saw better physical and emotional health in general
…because allowed me to realize what my body could do and how my mind could work.
For anyone who has considered implementing a gratitude practice but has no idea where to start, I feel ya. It can seem a little woo woo and totally uncomfortable. But that’s the beauty of it, really! Here are some tips to help make starting a gratitude practice a little more doable.
Seven Simple Tips for Starting a Gratitude Practice Today
1. Buy a cute journal or notebook.
I think the easiest way to practice gratitude is to simply jot down our appreciative thoughts on a regular basis. I recommend picking out a notebook or journal to use that makes you feel happy when you see it. Whenever I go to Target or Home Goods, I like to stop in the aisle with all the notebooks to pick some cute ones out. My favorites are the ones that have some sort of inspirational quote on the front!
2. Pick a consistent time of day.
When it comes to when we will practice gratitude, consider two things:
What time of day is the most likely to stick? When will a routine most likely be able to form? For example, early morning isn’t best for me because of my schedule with clients and classes. It feels rushed, and I know I’m likely to skip out for extra sleep, so I don’t try to do it then.
Second, what benefits sound the most attractive? Different times of day can be good for different things:
Morning: helps set a positive tone for the day, allows easing slowly into to do’s instead of starting abruptly, helps tackle the day with a clear mind
Midday: effective way to take a break between tasks, allows hitting the reset button instead of feeling go, go, go
Evening: relieves stress from the day, calms the mind before going to bed, enhances sleep quality
Regardless of the time chosen, try pairing it with another habit that’s already done consistently. For example, maybe we write in our gratitude journals after we make a morning cup of coffee or after we brush our teeth at night. Because these other habits are already so engrained, we are more likely to make gratitude a constant habit too. Remember, practicing gratitude doesn’t have to take hours. A few minutes is perfectly fine!
3. Let the environment set the tone.
It’s best to practice gratitude in a cozy and quiet environment. Eliminate clutter and distractions by tidying up a bit, shutting off the tv, putting phones aside, and not looking at social media. Some other ideas for getting the environment right: light a favorite candle, play quiet or relaxing music, make a cup of tea, or curl up in a chair with a warm blanket.
4. Be specific.
At first, it was hard for me to know what to write in my gratitude journal, and sometimes it can feel like we are saying the same general things over and over again: health, career, family, body, skills, friends, etc. It’s important to not only writing down what we are grateful for, but also why we feel grateful for that item. This is similar to how I coach my 1:1 coaching clients. If a client’s weekly goal is to “eat healthy,” I will ask them to get more specific. HOW will they eat healthy?
If you are grateful for your health, why? Because it allows you to move and participate in activities that bring you joy? Because it allows you to spend time with your grandchildren? If you are grateful for your job, why? Because your job is what allows you to support your family? Because of the relationships you’ve formed with your co-workers? Getting as specific as possible here can really be eye-opening to what we value most in our lives.
5. Don’t forget the little things.
Know that gratitude can be as big or small as we want it to be. Not everything we write has to be heavy! Of course there will be days when what we appreciate is all sorts of deep, but there will be many times that gratitude can be just simple things in our days that make us feel good.
A pretty view outside the window
A fun song that came on the radio on the commute to work
A hot cup of coffee at the best coffee shop
The more we grow accustomed to recognizing the little things throughout the day, the happier we become.
6. Turn negatives into positives.
Finally, try to identify the positive side to negative situations. For example, still being able to pay the rent even if out of work at the moment. Or being upset about a relationship not working out, but thankful for the time to focus on our own wants and needs. This reframing aspect might be the hardest piece of all when it comes to gratitude because there are going to be times where things feel shitty. When things ARE shitty. Bad things happen, and realistically not everything is always going to be all good vibes only.
When we practice gratitude and perspective regularly, even for just a few minutes a day, we are more equipped to handle the bad vibes. Gratitude is what helps us become resilient and show strength during our worst times.
7. Be patient.
Finally, know that it’s totally normal to feel meh about this. Starting a gratitude practice is uncomfortable and to be perfectly honest, pretty awkward. Trust me, I wasn’t nodding my head feverishly and feeling on board from the get go. Take some time to figure out what works the best for you. And if you are rolling your eyes at this post and feel like you’d rather just say, “yeah, okay Athena,” well… I’m willing to bet that you are probably more in need of a gratitude practice than you think! Just like we tend to not want to do the exercises at the gym that we hate because they are hard, getting started with gratitude can be hard too, but the results are WORTH IT.
This is self-care, you guys.
Instead of waking up and hitting go right away or burning the candle at both ends until the second before you go to sleep, take a few minutes and give this a try. Start by getting that journal, picking 2-3 things per day that you feel grateful for, and writing them down + why. Just see where it takes you.
The more we TRY to find the good in our lives, the more the good will appear.
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