Everyday ways to Practice Gratitude
This article was written by the beautiful Lana Hall from Sage and Sound Psychology. To connect with Lana and find out more about her work, click here.
Gratitude has become a very popular self-help technique. There’s lots of psychological studies which show that feeling grateful does wonders for your level of life satisfaction and general happiness. If you’re not already familiar with the idea, the basics are to find a few things each day for which you are grateful. The original positive psychology studies suggested 5 things; later research has shown the exact number isn’t important. There are plenty of variations on the theme too, like finding different things to be grateful for each day, or making a big list of all you’re grateful for at once and then reading and adding to it daily. You can talk about what you’re grateful for with the family over dinner, or silently say ‘thank-you’ each time you experience a moment of beauty, happiness, synchronicity or pleasure.
There’s a funny thing about gratitude though, although people in the research studies report they feel happier when they focus on gratitude daily, very few people keep it up after the study is finished! There are lots of reasons why this might be, but the fact is, they stopped.
If gratitude is good for us, but difficult to practise, how can we make gratitude more attractive, so we can get the benefits of feeling happier with our life? Below are two new ideas to make practising gratitude easier.
First way: Gratitude in an area where you feel lack
Gratitude’s power can be felt more strongly by focussing on an area of your life you’re not happy with, and then looking for what you can be grateful for in that area. So, for example, if you’re feeling lonely, look for reasons to be grateful for your relationships, rather than feeling grateful for your recent promotion or good weather. The reason why this works is that it forces your brain into a new pattern which is incompatible with the old belief, and in doing so, writes over the old belief. Once you focus on the relationships you do have, even if they’re not ideal, it’s much harder to believe you’re lonely, and you’ll feel better.
If you practice gratitude consistently in an area that you feel you’re lacking in, your mind will actually make a new decision. It will decide that you’re not lonely after all, and automatically look for evidence that supports this new belief, creating a positive feedback loop. When you feel connected, its much easier to build more, and deeper relationships than when you feel lonely, and the same applies to other areas of life as well, like feeling successful in your career, or making healthy choices.
Second Way: Look to Give, not Get
The default mode of thinking around gratitude is to look at what you’re getting. Traditional gratitude exercises focus on things you get, or have, and remembering to appreciate them. So does my first way of increasing your gratitude above. But this second way changes the focus entirely - to thinking about what you can give.
I’m not talking about possessions or money, but about aspects of yourself. It could be the time you give to chat to a neighbour. It could be your knowledge – giving a customer extra information they need, even though they’re not planning to buy that day. Looking for opportunities to give something of yourself makes you aware that you have something to give, something good that other people like and need, and this involves gratitude in ourselves for these traits we have.
Doing this often pays off in other ways too. When you give to others, they often give back in return, Your neighbour might offer to look after your kids so you have time to get your hair cut, the customer returns to your store again and does buy because they loved the service you gave, and from these flow on effects, you’ll feel grateful for what you’re now getting.
I love this method because the power is with you – it teaches you that you have control over the positive experiences in your day. Rather than wait for something good to happen to you to feel grateful for, you get to create the good thing! It taps into your personal power, forces you to look at your personal strengths, and asks you to think about what you’re already good at that you can share.
What do you know? What are you good at? What could you give to others as a way of expressing your gratitude for having enough to share?