There are situations in life that make it hard to see any positive aspects or feel any positivity at all. We all know it: Life can get tough. Obstacles, fears, mental blocks, anxiety, we are confronted with those feelings way too often. And let’s be honest: sometimes it is just easier to indulge in the pit we dug for ourselves and just bathe in the feeling of self-pity. (I’m certainly guilty of that too!) The thing is though, that the joy of life, our quality of life, decrease if we focus too much on the negative side of life. So, what can we do to change our attitude towards more positivity to create our own happiness?
Gratitude practice is one of the more widespread exercises to practice mindfulness in your life. Today we live in a 24/7/365 world in which we take things for granted. We have forgotten to be thankful on a regular basis. We have forgotten to appreciate what we have in life. And I’m not talking about the polite ‘thank you’ we express when we e.g. receive a gift because the social norm demands it of us. I’m talking about gratitude that notices and reflects. A feeling of gratitude that helps us to get a new perspective, that reconnects us with the joy of life, and with the world.
Multiple studies have shown that gratitude practice enhances positive emotions and empathy. It increases the quality of your sleep, brings forth more compassion and kindness to yourself and others, and increases your self-esteem and mental strength. It is our intrinsic motivation to live a healthier and happier life.
Gratitude can help us realize what life has already given us. If we are aware of what we are grateful for, it can help us to climb out of the hole we dug ourselves into and it makes it hard to complain about things. Gratitude can be the helping hand that pulls us out of the darkness and into the light.
How can you implement gratitude practice into your daily life?
Regular gratitude writing increases your personal well-being and overall satisfaction with life. Having a gratitude journal is probably the most popular and easiest way to focus on the good things. Some people like to journal every day, some just once or twice a week. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable – go for it. Gratitude journaling should not become a chore that is tedious and annoying. Usually people write 3-5 sentences for what they are thankful for every time they practice gratitude journaling.
The motivation with which you approach your practice makes the difference. If you go at it with an “I want to become happier and more grateful for my life” mindset then that will be the key to success. (If you want to know more about the right mindset check out my other post Positive Thinking: 59 Affirmations to Practice Daily)
It is way more effective to just write down a small number every time you journal and go into as much detail as possible than just compiling a superficial list. And from my own experience I can say the more you focus on the details, the more you have to be thankful for. (e.g. instead of just saying ‘I am grateful for my family.” you break it up into all the persons that are in your family and focus on a specific situation that involved one particular person). That said, you create even more depths to your gratitude practice if you zero in on the people you are grateful for instead of the all the material things.
You can even make a challenge out of it and try to be thankful for new and more specific things or people every day.
How does a gratitude jar work?
It is really rather simple. And you won’t need a whole lot of supplies. To create a gratitude jar you need: one container (maybe you want to make it a gratitude box instead?) or glass jar, paper and pen, and some crafting supplies (stickers, paint, ribbon, glue; whatever you want to decorate your box/ jar with).
After you designed your container, you can write down what you are grateful for in your life on a small piece of paper, fold it, and put it in your ‘gratitude jar’. When you encounter a situation or person that you feel grateful for, go write it down and put it in there. And maybe on a special occasion: birthday, New Year’s Eve, or Christmas, you can open the jar and read through everything that made you happy that year.
Alternative: If you don’t know what to give to a special person in your life as a gift, you can even create a gratitude jar to give to that person with everything you feel thankful for that involves that person. It will not only enhance the person’s self-esteem, but also the relationship you have with one another.
Some of you might think now: A Gratitude Rock? Really? Is she serious?
Yes, I am serious. 😉
It might seem like a silly thing to have, but the rock is really just a symbol. It functions as a reminder every time you see or touch it.
So, go to the beach, a creak nearby, or even buy a rock that you think is pretty and special (It should be one that you like and not just a random rock you pick up from the ground), and that you put some effort into finding it. Then place it in your pocket, on your key chain, in your bathroom, living room, kitchen, wherever you have regular access to and come across it on a regular basis. Now every time you see it or touch it take a moment and think of one or two things that you are grateful for in that moment.
For example: I had my gratitude rock on my nightstand. Every time before I went to sleep and every time before I got out of bed in the mornings I took it into my hands, closed my eyes and went over 3 things that I felt thankful for in my life.
The important part is that you really try to feel it, and not just list it in your head. Try to experience the feeling of gratefulness with your whole being. Maybe try to locate where exactly you can find that feeling in your body.
By doing this exercise you take moments in your regular daily routine to just stop for a minute. You pause and you are not only being grateful, but it is also a great mindfulness exercise.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get started. There are days, when you just can’t seem to find a beginning to your gratitude practice. A helpful tool can be specific writing prompts that focus on being thankful. Once you find your way into these, the flow of gratitude opens up inside of you and the rest will be a lot easier.
Here are some helpful gratitude writing prompts that can inspire you to be thankful:
- What/who made me smile today?
- When I think about the person I am today, I am proud of these things:
- Who are the people who make my world joyful?
- These are some things that inspired me today:
- What is the experience I feel most touched by today?
- Who/ What brought positivity into my life in the last couple of days?
- Who helped me solve an emotional/ work-related problem today?
- What did I receive today/ in the last couple of days that made me happy?
- Which part of my body did the most work today?
- What/Who entered my world unexpectedly today?
- What opportunities presented themselves to me lately?
- What motivated me in the last couple of days to move forward with my life?
In between everything we encounter on a day-to-day basis I always find it so relaxing to have something laid out for me, so I can focus on the most important parts.
Maybe you want to focus on one particular person that made your life happier and richer by just being there for you. You could try writing a letter to that person where you express all the things about that person that you are thankful for. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible. Maybe it is what the person is doing for you on a regular basis? Maybe it is something they contributed to your life? Or maybe it is just about the person and all their good qualities that make them stand out?
Address the letter to that person, keep that person as the audience in mind, and then just feel the gratitude. You don’t have to give this letter to that specific person. You could just keep it to yourself. Or you could give it as a gift for a special occasion. You could just go and visit that person and read it to that person. (Make sure that the person is really listening and ask them to let you finish before they say anything). Whatever makes you feel most comfortable. Whatever your heart tells you is the best course of action.
For me the gratitude collage works similar to a vision board (Have you heard of those? Really good stuff to inspire you to strive for what you want in life). You create a board (it can be a corkboard, pinboard, a magnetic bulletin board, a poster, or just simply a huge piece of paper), and you then design it with whatever your creativity desires. Once you’ve done that, you can now start to write down things that you are grateful for and pin them on it. You can cut out snippets from a magazine that symbolize what you’re being thankful for. Or it can be pictures of people and experiences that are special to you. Everything goes. Try to feel the gratitude for each piece before you clip it onto the board. Then put up the board behind your desk, next to your bed, on your dresser, anywhere you easily pass it regularly. And every time you look at it, choose one piece and focus on that single detail that you say thanks to.
This is another more creative approach to your gratitude practice again. It reminds me a lot of scrapbooking (which I absolutely looooove!). Anyway, the thing about this technique is that almost everyone has a calendar somewhere in the house, right? And we all look at our calendars to get our dates straight, right? 😉
So why not make your own personal gratitude calendar? Maybe create your own monthly templates or grab them at the next arts and crafts supply store. Design each page to your liking and put 1-3 things on there that you’re grateful to have in your life. Again, this could be pictures, a simple and short list that you can read while passing by, or a drawing. If you want to make it more fun, involve the rest of your family and let everyone design a page, so that every month when you turn the calendar page there are new things to be grateful for and every page has its own style.
Alright, now it’s time to get started with your own personal gratitude practice. The most important thing is that you enjoy it. Maybe even look forward to doing it. The best results come from things our hearts create.