Have you ever tried a simple gratitude exercise? What about living with an attitude of gratitude?
You know, the whole “write down three things that you’re grateful for” and your answer is supposed to have this crazy profound impact on your attitude or outlook on life?
Chances are you probably have. Whether it’s during thanksgiving dinner (we all know the ‘give thanks’ part of this!), writing in a daily gratitude journal, or simply taking the time to notice how awesome LIFE is, we’ve all likely had our own experiences with the attitude of gratitude.
How many times has someone told you to “count your blessings” or “be grateful for what you have because things could always be worse?”
Totally- things could always be worse.
Let’s be honest, though… sometimes it can be super hard to see the positives in life. Some people are naturally optimistic, and that’s awesome. But sometimes life throws us some pretty shitty curve-balls, and at times it’s hard not to be consumed by the bullshit. Trust me- I know. You can read about my story here!
It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by our daily stresses and misfortunes. Would’t life be SO much better if we all took the time to notice, appreciate and interact with the things that make us happy?
After all, what’s the point of living without that?
That, my dear, is what living with an attitude of gratitude is all about.
WHAT THE HECK IS AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE?!
The dictionary definition of gratitude is:
::the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness::
Many people associate the word “gratitude” with positivity, appreciation, thankfulness, mindfulness and living in the present moment. While all of these are totally true, there is SO MUCH MORE to gratitude than that!
Gratitude journals are becoming a thing, and there are an endless amounts of gratitude lists and journal prompts, but it’s a lot like New Year’s resolutions. People might keep up with it for a while, but after a while it usually gets put on the back burner and forgotten about. The “list 3 things you’re grateful for” thing is fine, but is it life-changing? Nope.
It’s great to take notice of the things that make you happy, but things start to get SO MUCH BETTER when you begin to truly recognize and acknowledge the positives. Rather than just for a fleeting moment, it’s okay to give that attitude of gratitude a longer lifespan!
Rather than just listing three things (let’s see- your house, your family, and your computer, for example), dive deeper! Each and every one of these items deserves your attention, and part of being grateful is being consistent, responsive and ready to SERIOUSLY take control of your attitude!
Honestly, the concept of gratitude can seem pretty abstract. Yeah, you appreciate shit. You like sunsets because they are freakin beautiful. You like coffee.
And cake. But all of these things might seem a little trivial in the grand scheme of things. Like, what the hell does it matter if sunsets are pretty? It can seem pretty damn insignificant if, let’s say, you just lost your job.
So, it GREATLY helps if we break these down into tiny, CONCRETE, and REAL things to be happy about. I can guarantee you that there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for, but sometimes it can be easy to miss.
It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant these things are (AHEM: one of my favorite things in the entire world is coffee). The point is to get these babies down on a piece of paper, or recorded in some way, for a helpful reminder for those days that life sucks.
So, RIGHT NOW- grab a piece of paper and jot down 10 things that you’re grateful for. Don’t worry- I’ll wait.
Lists are amazing, but let’s take it a step further.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
To truly benefit from practicing gratitude (and there are TONS and TONS of benefits- an overall improvement in emotional well-being is one), it needs to be a consistent habit. If you want your attitude of gratitude to truly be effective, it has to become a part of YOU.
Like I said, lists are awesome. But they aren’t magical by themselves. It can’t just be one of those things you do every 6 months when you’re feeling down in the dumps. It has to be consistent.
You have to live your gratitude.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, but a good way to start is to list 10 things you’re grateful for. Do this every day. Expand on these lists when you want, but the point is to actively think about what makes you happy. Write them down for safe keeping. Record them on your phone. Even if you’re having a totally shitty day, make time and space for the positive stuff. Again, it doesn’t matter what these things are. They could be as simple as “my blanket,” or they could be immensely profound. Either way, you will reap the benefits when consciously making the effort to be receptive.
Practice gratitude every day for a couple of weeks, and your outlook on life will begin to shift. It won’t be anything major at first, but you’ll probably notice small improvements in your mood. You’ll start to feel “lighter,” you won’t feel as stressed and you’ll start to appreciate everything more. And can I just say that it is an awesome feeling?!
FULLY EXPERIENCING GRATITUDE
So you’re stoked about life (or maybe not so much), and you’re grateful for art? Awesome. Grateful for natural beauty? Cool beans. What about music? Niiiiice. Now how does that make you feel? Probably not much different, because thinking about what you’re thankful for is only part of the process.
The real treasure behind an attitude of gratitude is actually EXPERIENCING and participating in your gratitude. You wouldn’t expect to lose 10 pounds while just thinking about exercising every day, would you? NOPE. The same goes for having a positive outlook, or kicking depression to the curb, or even just living life more fully. We all know the old saying that says, “You have to practice what you preach.” This is no different.
KNOW YOUR “WHY”
How does this work with gratitude? You have to know you’re WHY.
When you dig a little deeper into what you are grateful for, things start to change. Chances are, through this practice, you will discover even MORE things that make your life special, and makes it totally worth living.
Like, cool- you have a place to live. That in itself is awesome, but when you break it down and think about WHY having a place to live and call your own is so special, you might just become that much more happy about the very fact that you have your little haven.
So, let’s take your list of 10 things (you wrote them down, right?!), and let’s say one of those things is coffee (because duh- I’m addicted to coffee… but if you’re not, switch it out for tea, or wine- whatever works). MY reasons might be different than yours, but I’m in love with coffee because it makes mornings so much better, it smells amazing, and the obvious- it keeps me awake (and yes, I drink a lot of coffee). If my love involved tea, my WHY would be the amazing health benefits, yummy flavors and enjoying being in the moment. You get the picture, yeah?!
We can even go a little bit deeper with this. This might be a bit too much (and it’s totally okay if you think it is, hehe) but I’m happy that I am able to make coffee and drink coffee. Bam. Those are two more things to be stoked about, and those can often be taken for granted (some people can’t drink coffee because of the acidity)! But seriously? I just love coffee.
Pick a few things from your list. If one of them is coffee, drink a cup of coffee. Enjoy it. Savor the sips. Breathe in the aroma. If it’s family, call your mom. Tell your sister you love her. Take your kid to the park. Make time for family time. If you listed nature, go for a walk and get outside. And YES- If it’s Netflix, curl up on the couch and watch that guilty pleasure (we all have one, or two…).
Do this on a regular basis (preferably daily). Take action and give special attention to the items listed. Give each and every one of them a fair chance to be experienced. If you don’t make time or effort to make space for your gratitude, the benefits of gratitude will slowly slip away.
Just like any habit, it takes commitment and dedication, but OH MY GOODNESS it is so worth it.
As you practice this more and become more consistent, gratitude might just naturally start to emerge. You’ll stop taking things for granted and you will learn to fully enjoy every moment.