Gratitude, or rather practicing gratitude has been a hot topic over the last few years in the self help and personal development space, and for good reason (more on that shortly), but what exactly is gratitude?
A simple definition of gratitude is this: it is the quality of being thankful for the good things that happen in your life. And no, this does not have to get complicated or fancy. In fact, often it’s the simple things in life which we are guilty of taking for granted (and which we are the most grateful for). For example, this morning as I type these words I am grateful for my home (it’s safe, warm and acts as my safe haven in a big city), my hot cup of green tea I’m slowly sipping (I fell in love with this tea in Tasmania), and the view from my window out into nature (because who doesn’t love trees when you live in a city?)
Perhaps you already have a gratitude practice where you take the time on a regular basis to be thankful and express your gratitude? This may be in the form of a gratitude journal, a gratitude list, or even an evening practice at the dinner table. Sometimes I even just silently practice gratitude in my mind.
But here’s the thing when starting something new. New habits and practices can just feel really hard to get started with, especially if your head is already bursting at the seams with to-do lists, busy family commitments and the hustle and bustle of life. Am I right?
It’s all too easy to put off ‘extras’, especially if there is no tangible clear benefit or outcome. For example, if you started a weekly cleansing routine you’d start to see a visual benefit on your skin. If you started taking yoga classes on a regular basis, you’d notice an increase in flexibility – again, a benefit which you can visually see and take notice of.
You may be wondering what all the hype is about, and if there really are benefits to being thankful for the goodness in your life?
And if there are benefits, how do you create a practice that is going to work for you Maybe you’re just not a journal person? (and that’s totally ok by the way!) Maybe you hate lists? Maybe you’re just not a ‘routine’ kinda person?
The science is in my friends, and expressing our thanks, appreciation and gratitude can really improve your sense of wellbeing. What does this mean? Well it means you feel better on the inside. And if you’re suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, practicing gratitude can actually lift these negative heavy emotions.
In studies, grateful people have also been shown to be more agreeable, more open and also less neurotic. And who doesn’t want these things?!
Furthermore, being grateful builds our individual levels of self-control which in turn helps us to be more disciplined and focused towards our goals, and what is most important to us over the long term. Sounds pretty good to me.
I hope by now you are teetering on the edge in wondering how you can practice gratitude in your own life?
No you don’t need to carry a journal everywhere. You also don’t need to gather your nearest and dearest together every evening and share three things your grateful for (although if you did that’s wonderful!).
Practicing gratitude can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
Take my own journaling practice as an example. I have a journal but I don’t write in it regularly. I use it as a tool in times of overwhelm and to help me gain clarity. Writing down the thoughts in my mind is a way to lighten my load and acts as a springboard to my next step. If I had to sit down every evening at a specific time and write in a journal I would probably stop pretty soon. It’s just not my way. Instead I choose to honour the times when I want to journal, and this makes it a more personal and aligned experience.
There are no rules.
So if journalling is not your thing (welcome to my camp!), here are two simple ways to practice gratitude without the need for a pen and a notepad.
If something has touched your heart, stop and smile. Perhaps it’s the feel of warm air on your face when you’ve come in from the cold, tasting a delicious piece of chocolate cake, a driver letting you in on the road, a friend popping in to say hello.
You don’t need to spend time each evening reflecting back, you can simply acknowledge and be grateful in the moment. Smile.
2. Say thank you
It might be the bus driver, the taxi guy, the shop keeper, the postman… You don’t need to get all spiritual to practice gratitude. You don’t have to change your routine or how you live your life, you don’t have to write out affirmations or carry crystals in your pockets. You can simply say thank you and acknowledge the people around you. Two words. Thank you. And trust me, it’ll make a really positive difference not just to them but to you too.
I remember last winter when I popped out to buy a few things before heading out to a friend’s place for dinner. As I went to pay and pick up my bag, I looked at the cashier serving me eye to eye and said ‘thank you, stay warm’. He replied ‘thank you’ and then said ‘Do you know how few people actually acknowledge us behind here?’. He wished me a lovely evening and I continued on my way.
You could find yourself walking along the street and feeling grateful for the great team you work with, or for the loving partner you have in your life. You could even find yourself brushing your teeth in the morning thinking about all the things you have in your life to be grateful for.
You can choose of course whether to share your feelings of being thankful and appreciative with those around you, or simply reflect and feel that buzz of warmth spread through your body.
It feels good to be grateful. It’s good for you too.
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