Gratitude has officially become a trend. Like most trends, I avoided it until I couldn’t resist the temptation anymore. What exactly was this whole gratitude thing, and why was it such a big deal all of a sudden?
I knew that gratitude means to be grateful, but everywhere I looked I saw something about “practicing gratitude”. I didn’t understand how you could practice gratitude, so I decided to do some research.
Holy cow, there is so much information out there about the benefits of this seemingly small change. I don’t typically jump on the bandwagon so quickly. But everything I read spoke volumes about the benefits gratitude provides to mental health.
I have suffered from anxiety my entire life. I have learned to manage it and live comfortably with it for the past three years. Regardless, I am always open to new ideas on how to get more out of life. Before I knew it, I was giving this whole gratitude thing a go. This is what happened.
What I Learned About Gratitude
Did you know that practicing gratitude can have a physical effect on the brain? A study done at Berkley University said that students who practiced gratitude showed more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex when faced with a gratifying experience. This was 12 weeks after their initial gratitude practice.
Basically, practicing gratitude can make your brain more sensitive to the feeling of being grateful well after your practice is complete for the day! This makes it more likely for you to feel grateful over the smallest situations.
Experiencing gratitude has shown to improve the lives of individuals with no mental health issues, as well as individuals who suffer from mental illness such as anxiety and depression.
Practicing gratitude focuses on the lack of negative words used when thinking of your life or experiences. It trains the mind to steer away from toxic emotions like jealousy and resentment and focuses the mind on positive attributes.
Now that I understood what gratitude was, I had to learn how to cultivate it in my own life. Of course, I was grateful for the big things like my husband and the life we are building together.
But did I ever feel grateful for my morning coffee or the all the goofy things my dogs do on a daily basis? No. And I quickly realized that most people don’t.
How to Practice Gratitude
Take time to notice the little things. I’m not going to hit you with the “smell the roses” cliche, but really. Gratitude is all about taking time to notice the things that don’t make it onto your to-do list of problems to solve.
For example, my husband and I started our gratitude practice while we were on a cruise vacation. I figured it would be easy to transition our new habit into our daily routine when we were surrounded by happy vacationers and beautiful scenery.
I was right.
We took the time to go back and forth about the little things we were grateful for each day. This included saying things like “I’m thankful for being the first ones to the pool this morning” or “I’m thankful for the perfectly mixed pina colada I had this afternoon”.
We gave light to the little situations that we would never have given a second thought otherwise. At the end of the week, we were able to look back and see all of the perfect little moments we would have taken for granted.
Practicing gratitude can be as simple as talking about all the things that made you smile today.
If you like to have a visual representation then start a gratitude journal. So many successful business owners, influencers, and celebrities keep a gratitude journal and add to it every day.
I tend to have a hefty agenda and have not incorporated this into my routine yet. Regardless, I feel that it would be so therapeutic to look back at pages of wonderful moments and appreciation for all of the little things in life.
Even though my journal is still empty and sitting on the shelf, I have seen the effects of my verbal practice in my everyday life. I tend to be more patient with frustrating situations, and low and behold, I am much more optimistic.
Be Grateful, Not Entitled
Author Jeremy Smith says that the opposite of gratitude is
I felt entitled to eating nutritious meals every day, and I felt entitled to enough water to drink. I’m not gonna lie, I felt pretty entitled to the occasional peanut butter Oreo.
The idea of being entitled made my skin crawl, so reprogramming my brain to look at everyday things as gifts and blessings instead of a birthright became a huge part of my gratitude practice. It’s still a huge part of my practice.
The thing about gratitude is that the results happen gradually. You can’t write down three things you’re grateful for and expect to see changes immediately. Good things come to those who wait, and the same goes for gratitude.
I am nowhere near where I want to be with my personal growth journey and that includes gratitude. I am learning every day, and I know that when I take the time to show my appreciation for life daily, I am one step closer to my goal.
Consistency is key to building any habit, so I track my practice. I use an app on my phone to see how many consecutive days I have directly shown appreciation for my life and try to reflect on any changes I have noticed! I use this app, and it helps me keep track of my progress.
Be Grateful to Others
It’s easy to be thankful for things, but it can sometimes be difficult to be thankful for people.
I get it.
When you’ve picked up your husband’s shoes from the same spot every day for the past week, it’s a lot easier to be resentful. Especially if you’ve consistently reminded him of where his shoes live, which is not in the bathroom.
This is where practicing gratitude every day comes in handy. After a while, you’ll find yourself feeling thankful that your husband is home from a job that helps puts a roof over your head. The shoes will just be a trigger of appreciation.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a pretty drastic change, but an incredibly attainable change! Take the time to be grateful for the mailman who delivers your Amazon packages and for the cashier at the gas station who rang up your candy bar.
But don’t forget to take the time to be grateful for the people who stress you out! It will teach you that there is always good with the bad. You just have to see it through the right lens to appreciate it.
As you begin to practice gratitude and see things from a new perspective, your brain will start to change. You will be more attuned to the beautiful things in life and give less attention to the things that bring your pain.
This doesn’t mean that every negative thing in your life will just disappear. There will still be hardship and strife as there has always been, but practicing gratitude teaches you to view the hardship as something to build from.
The whole point of gratitude is to prepare you for the hard things in life. So many people let death, the loss of a job or relationship completely derail them.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take time to feel the emotions that come with death or the loss of a relationship because this is also an important part of personal growth. I’m saying that the practice of gratitude will prepare you to process the negative in a healthy and productive way when faced with the hardest of life’s challenges.
Don’t take it from me. I challenge you to practice gratitude every day for 28 days. If you complete the challenge, gratitude will officially be a habit, and you can see the results for yourself!
Drop me a line in the comments if you actively practice gratitude or if you’re a newbie building your habit!
Happy travels, friends!