As the holidays approach next month I start reflecting on life. I know a lot of people do this in January with the New Year, but I like to do it in the fall, as the leaves change. The holidays are a time to reflect on our lives and take the opportunity to be grateful for what we have. Instead of waiting until November or December to be thankful for everything we have, we should be grateful year round.
Why Practice Gratitude?
Being grateful year round is what’s known as “practicing gratitude”. The word practicing implies that it isn’t easy and takes a while to get right. So why should you bother? Three reasons. Practicing gratitude changes your perspective about all the “terrible” things that are happening in your life.
Maybe the cat knocked over a glass of milk and your carpet will need to be professionally clean. By taking a moment to reflect, you’ll realize that you’re literally crying over spilled milk and that you have so many good things in life to focus your attention on. By focusing your attention on things that are going well in your life, you’ll become a happier person. Guaranteed.
Where Do I Start?
First you really need to understand that gratitude is a process which could take a long time to get right. You won’t start practicing gratitude on Friday and be magically happy and eternally grateful by Monday. In order to change your spirit, you have to start tracking your gratitude:
- Plan to reflect 1-2x a day on the good things that happened and what you’re grateful for
- Take note of anytime you say something negative or complain
- Perform honest reflections of your day and week
The best way to keep track of all of this is in a gratitude journal, Excel document or gratitude app. Each day jot down a few things you’re grateful for and reflect upon your day. As time goes on your notes about positive thoughts should increase while your notes about negative thoughts should decrease. Sooner than you realize you’ll have no negative thoughts at all and honestly, who wouldn’t be happy if they never had negative thoughts?
Share the Love
Practicing gratitude doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To be truly effective you must involve other people. Each day spread the love by giving compliments or doing something nice. If you’re too shy to compliment someone you know, tell a stranger you like her skirt, or buy a coffee for the next person in line. Imagine how good you’d feel if you were on the receiving end of those nice things – why wouldn’t you want to make someone that happy practically for free? This is called paying it forward and it’s a very powerful concept.
Take your gratitude a step further though and tell your friends. Depending on your social circles your friends might wholeheartedly embrace your new practice or outwardly dismiss it. Don’t pay attention to your dismissive friends but instead focus on the friends who are interested in your practice. Bring them into your gratitude circle and share your positive thoughts. Happiness grows much more easily when the people around you are also happy. Don’t let yourself be dragged down by others’ negative thoughts!
Since I’ve begun practicing gratitude, I can’t say that my entire world has changed and that the sun shines brighter or anything. In fact, I find myself more frustrated some days, especially when I’ve inadvertently skipped a day of “gratitude practice”. My results are probably atypical though – I’m very hard on myself. Luckily, the frustrating days are becoming further and further apart as I improve my gratitude skills. I hope that by this time next year I won’t be beating myself up over making mistakes at all. Hopefully by this time next Thanksgiving I won’t even need a special holiday for me to tell my loved ones that I’m grateful for their presence.