You know you should be grateful.
Everyone’s told you to be happy with what you’ve got; to think how lucky you are, to remember that most of the world is less well off.
But it doesn’t quite work like that.
I mean logically, it makes sense. You know you’re lucky, you know you should be thankful, but you still feel sad and disappointed with yourself.
Some days you’re positive and full of gratitude, other days you’ve sunk back into despair. And so you blame yourself.
“I am grateful, but I still feel full of sadness,” you say. Or you feel like lashing out. Don’t people know it’s not as easy as they say?
And that’s the truth.
It’s not so easy.
Gratitude is not something that comes naturally to everyone. It’s a skill and a habit, one that takes time to learn and improve.
One that you can use tools and techniques to improve on little by little, day by day.
And the benefits are amazing.
Recent research shows that gratitude re-wires the brain for happiness. New neural connections form that keep you more peaceful and less reactive.
And numerous other studies back this up. Gratitude does make you more content, boosts your self-esteem and helps you cope with stress and trauma.
More so if you do it right.
1) Carve Things in Stone
If you enjoy writing, why not keep a record of all that is good in your life?
Choose a quiet time where you’ll have a few moments to reflect. Try to think of 3–5 things for which you are currently grateful. They don’t have to be earth-shattering.
Maybe your car got fixed a day quicker than you thought, it’s now sitting patiently on your drive. Perhaps autumn is arriving, and the trees are full of dazzling hues, and fallen leaves crunch crisply beneath your feet.
Find a frequency that works for you.
Studies show that once a week works best for most people, but you may prefer more or less.
The trick is not to let it become a chore but to keep it as an act of celebration — a moment of triumph, against a world that tries to keep you down.
2) Celebrate Washing Machines
Writing not for you?
Quietly contemplating works just as well.
Some people prefer to do this at set times each week. Others choose to do it once a day, finding something that ordinarily goes unappreciated and remembering how special it is. Doing the laundry may not be enticing, but what wonders washing machines are.
Your plight may not be great, but it’s probably better than everyone who’s lived before you.
Not too long ago Kings and Queens bathed once a year. Now water flows freely from taps. So while bills are annoying, getting rainwater to tap is a marvellous feat.
And so is not having to hand wash your clothes.
3) Bathe in the Moons Pale Light
Not happy rejoicing in the everyday?
Fine, celebrate the wonders of the universe too.
I love full moons, and I’m not the only one. In traditional Chinese culture, these were a time of celebration, when all would gather to sing, drink and play the lute. Many a song and poem feature the moon, and the traditional Chinese calendar organised around its cycles.
Don’t forget to bask in pale lunar light and take time to notice the white globes details. Or choose whatever miracle works for you.
There’s not a shortage of things to choose from.
To cultivate a good habit, try to pick a few different things each week. It’s surprising, once you start to look, you appreciate more that wonders abound.
It’s a case of making time to notice.
4) Get a ‘Gratitude Partner’
Find a ‘gratitude partner.’
Someone with whom you can share your positive thoughts. Someone who will prompt you if you lose motivation or forget.
It can be useful to get their perspective too.
They might remind you of the positive things that you alone might have missed. And you can return the favour.
It is always easier to look at someone else’s life and remind them of what they should be grateful for. By regularly doing so for a friend, you get into the habit of looking objectively at another life. You can then apply this to yourself.
You can ‘step outside’ your life and thoughtfully reflect on how it might seem to others. What things do you have they would wish for themselves?
How can you be friendly to yourself, and point out all the positives you've already got.
5) Don’t Go Stale
Keep it fresh.
One of the crucial things about increasing your gratitude is to keep your strategies fresh.
You’re trying to develop a practice that you’ve never had before, and so you do need strategies, but if you overdo it, or keep the same approach, on the same days, it soon becomes dull and routine.
You might want to mix up your techniques each week. Use a journal for one week, a gratitude partner of the next. Then the week after, choose one thing a day to acknowledge as good. And so on…
You need to keep the habit going long enough so that it becomes second nature.
Never let it become a chore, always keep it exciting, and something that you enjoy doing.
6) Give People a Tour
Do you have a visitor coming?
Perhaps introduce them to all the things you love and why you like them.
Whenever anyone visits me, they always get a tour of the park near me. It’s a lovely day out, especially if the weather is excellent, and I get to show them something I love.
If you have a hobby you enjoy, or certain home items you like, or even a collection of stamps you’ve lovingly collated. Introduce it to your visitor and share what it means you.
Another trick is to pretend aliens are visiting and you have to explain how everything works.
Once you’ve explained that in 0.83 seconds Google searches 885 million web pages and returns them in an order it thought most relevant to you, and that leaf takes sunlight and turns it into sugar, things don’t quite seem the same again.
Taking time to explain what you enjoy and why to friends and family is a way of reminding yourself of all that you have.
7) Unleash Your Creative Side
Art can be a way of expressing appreciation for the world.
We usually see things in a casual or absentminded manner. Through the act of studying and recreating what we perceive, we are drawn to review the details.
Clouds are no longer white fluffy blobs, but animate entities with a vibrant hue of shades and colours.
And any form of art can help.
In the service of gratitude, photography, pottery, collage all work wonderfully.
Celebrate those you love with pictures in a creatively designed photograph album.
Make watercolour paintings of your home or the view from the window.
Art is a beautiful medium with which to show how much you appreciate certain things.
8) Keep Piling them Up
Keeping a gratitude jar is a tool favoured by many of my clients.
They keep a jar with a scrapbook open next to it, and they write down one thing to be grateful for every day.
At the end of the year, they empty the jar and go through all the slips, reminding themselves what a great year they had.
It’s something the whole family can get involved in, and the New Year becomes a communal time when you reflect on all the good times you shared.
Your partner may be surprised how often you were grateful for the little things they did for you. And it can be a pleasant surprise to learn just how appreciated you are.
It doesn’t matter if you miss a day or don’t do it as frequently as hoped.
Even just leaving the jar out can be a start. A reminder that there are things to be thankful for just haven’t got around to recording them yet.
9) Tell the World
The expression of gratitude may be particularly useful when done directly by phone, letter or face-to-face to another person.
Don’t keep it to yourself.
Is there someone you owe a debt of gratitude? Why not express your appreciation in concrete terms. Perhaps it’s your Mum, favourite Uncle or an old friend; maybe it’s a former coach, teacher or supervisor.
Describe in detail what they did for you and how it affected your life. Some people prefer to do it to authors or politicians who they don’t know personally, but who have had a positive impact.
Letters can be written but not sent.
Many people are surprised at what an effective strategy can be. Even those who are sceptical at first are amazed how good they feel after.
And imagine how you made the other person feel?
You may just have made their day, month or even year.
10) Look out for the Good in the Bad
Sometimes gratitude is a matter of perspective.
A train I was due to take the other day was cancelled, leaving me one stop away from home, but I was immediately shuffled into a free of charge taxi-cab and sent on my way.
A passenger grumbled about the delay, while I marvelled at the generosity of the train company. I could have been stuck at the station for hours or making my way home. Sure, I didn’t appreciate the delay, but I understood it could have been a lot worse.
And sometimes even bad things have a positive side.
Even severe life challenges can come with benefit, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
- Being sick draws compassion from friends.
- Making a mistake teaches you a lesson
When things feel hard, ask yourself, what good is there here?
This doesn’t mean that sometimes we can’t fall on hard luck, or that terrible things don’t happen to us. Or that we don’t have the right to feel dreadful after tragedy.
Only that not everything is always black and white, sometimes even awful things contain positives from which we can draw.
Don’t Give Up
Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful.
Emotions can override logic, and we can’t help feeling down even though we know things could be worse.
We feel lost and alone and at the end of our tether. Well-meaning words from friends only annoy. They might be right, but it’s not as easy as they make out. Try as we might it is hard to see the positives.
The trick with any habit change is to start small.
Read through the suggestions in this post and choose a few you’d like to try. Experiment and find what works for you.
Don’t get disheartened if you struggle at first. If you’re only slightly more grateful than you were, that’s a start.
But don’t give up.
There’s a lot of evidence to support the benefits gratitude brings.
As you shift your views and establish your practice, you’ll start to notice a change.
You’ll feel more confident, relaxed and able to cope.
You’ll feel kinder, more connected to those around you and less envious of others.
Anger, bitterness and greed will lessen, and you’ll stop taking every day for granted.
- NIH: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2019/03/practicing-gratitude
- Harvard Health: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
- NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/
- Academia: https://www.academia.edu/gratitude-improves-relatedness-and-motivation
- Yale (Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention): http://ei.yale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/jclp22020.pdf