The Practice of Gratitude

Studies have shown that the practice of gratitude actually changes the way your brain functions. It creates an opportunity to view life through a more positive lens. When we choose gratitude, we choose to see the positive outcomes, even in difficult situations. When we focus on gratitude as a daily practice, we sleep better, have decreased levels of pain, stress, anxiety, and depression, and have increased energy.

Gratitude seems like an easy concept, right? I’m thankful for a roof over my head, my dog laying on my feet while I read a book, the yummy dinner I had last night. Easy, right? But how do we maximize the use of gratitude to achieve all of those awesome benefits? It needs to be a regular practice, and we need to intentionally find gratitude, even in difficult things. Often, when I first ask my clients what they are grateful for they give me standard answers: family, friends, a job, and a place to live. We should be grateful for all of those things, of course.

The challenge comes in trying to find gratitude for circumstances or people with which we struggle. There are so many things in day-to-day life that can make it hard to find gratitude. Traffic on the way home from work. An angry client or customer. Another task on top of your overloaded to-do list. Dinner that didn’t turn out right. The list could go on and on. What if, instead of focusing on those things, you found the positives in every day? What if you found the lessons learned that can make your life better going forward?

I try to practice gratitude every day. For me, it works best when I am getting ready to go to bed at night. My distractions are naturally limited (Do Not Disturb with Bedtime is the best invention ever), and it gives me an opportunity to review my day. What good things happened? What things could I have done better and how? What lessons did I learn from those things? Who and what made a positive impact on me today? Who and what pushed me to do my best?

As we head into the New Year, I challenge you to make gratitude a part of your day to day life, too. Start small. Find three things everyday for which you are grateful. Choose one person, one thing, and one experience each day. As time goes on and you get more comfortable with the practice, expand your list.

I invite you to try an end of the year gratitude practice: Look back over the last year. Choose at least one person, thing, or experience you were grateful for each month, and then add it to next year’s calendar for that month so you can remember to stay grateful for them, and to stay grateful in general.

Wishing you a Happy (and Grateful!) New Year!