7 Ways to Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude, retraining our brains to be open to the positivity in our world, can be life changing. It’s not something that necessarily comes easy to me, though. I’ll think “isn’t it obvious how much I have to be grateful for?” and never once actually list one of those things and turn my attention back to all the negatives and complaints I have.
I grew up very fortunate, with a lot of opportunities the majority of people don’t get, the biggest of these being going to a selective (and expensive) private school. For my parents though, it wasn’t about status, it was about investing in my education and my future and they sacrificed a lot to make going to private school a reality for me. I really had a lot to be grateful for.
People made a lot of assumptions about me, though, because I went to this school. People at school, people who saw me in my uniform, they thought they knew or understood where I came from, and they judged me for it. I have a distinct memory of being sick while at summer camp, sitting in the nurses office making small talk with her while I shivered with a fever, I couldn’t have been more than eight, and when I told her where I went to school after she asked, she immediately responded back with “Oh, so you’re one of those rich kids.”
The thing was, for a could part of my life that wasn’t the case. Was I comparatively very fortunate? Yes. But the hidden reality was of a struggle to make tuition payments, of two working parents, of job changes and moving homes nearly every two years. And instead of turning my focus to all I had to be grateful for, in the face of accusations, I clung to all that was wrong in my life. I focused instead on all the ways I wasn’t “privileged,” the things that differentiated me from “those rich kids.”
Looking back, I think this mindset really affected my perspective in school. I became judgmental and resentful. I didn’t appreciate the opportunity I’d been given and felt, unnecessarily, like I constantly had to be defending my right to be there. I looked at most things in my life during high school through a negative lens.
I think my experience in school, especially high school, could have been very different had I been practicing gratitude. Being open and appreciative would’ve had the same end goal of trying to get people to really know who I was and where I came from, while also creating a more positive experience for myself and those around me.
I’ve been trying to bring gratitude into my daily life, but it’s been a struggle. It feels awkward and unnatural. But, nevertheless, I keep going because I can already glimpse the little ways it makes my life better and makes me feel like a better version of myself.
So how can we bring gratitude into our daily lives? Here are seven ways I’ve started to incorporate into my life. It can feel a little forced at first (trust me, I know) but it’s a personal exercise for you, no expectations, and can be really transformative on your life perspective because you’ll start to become more aware and mindful of moments you’re grateful for throughout your day.
1. Write it down
Take a few minutes at the end of your day to reflect back and write down five things that you are grateful for. From people to your favorite coffee drink, everything that brings joy into your life is fair game.
2. Tell someone else how you’re grateful for them
This takes the focus off yourself while still helps you express gratitude for your life (and bonus, you get to strengthen your personal relationships and help make someone’s day a little better)
3. Savor specific moments of your day with increased mindfulness
A walk outside, a meal, doing the dishes, practice mindfulness as you do these things and think of all the ways you appreciate them. Don’t worry about the whole day, just be grateful for that one moment.
4. Turn negative thoughts into positive ones
Strive to complain less. When you catch yourself complaining by focusing on the negative, try to instead focus on a positive attribute of the same situation.
Want more on this idea? Check out ‘A Complaint Free World’*
5. Give more compliments
Make them specific and genuine. Similar to number two, make it about someone else, recognize the positivity in those around you.
6. Give more compliments
When faced with a difficult situation in can be especially hard to practice gratitude, so instead ask yourself “How can I grow from this?”. Looking at it from that angle can help you see gratitude in the long run.
Buddhist monk, Thich Nacht Hanh puts it best: “Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy.” Putting on a smile sets the tone for how you’re going to approach your life.
Do you practice gratitude? What ways do you try to be more grateful in your daily life?