By April Morris, LCSW, Therapist
When life throws a wrench in your plans, it can be difficult to feel grateful for the little things. We tend to focus on what we want and don't have, over what we already have. For example, it's common for people to focus on their lack of material blessings while forgetting about the blessings of a good friendship or caring family members.
Research shows that individuals who count their blessings are more likely to experience joy and happiness. Likewise, those who do not, tend to experience more depression.
In other words, rather than getting stuck dwelling on our misfortunes (read more about these "thinking traps"), we would all do well to take a step back and appreciate all that we have in life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may seem. After all, it is through gratitude for these things that we can overcome even the toughest challenges and find true happiness. Indeed, when all is said and done, every day truly is a gift.
So let's start to learn how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude so that we can fully enjoy this precious gift called life! Here are three ways.
1) Recognize and Appreciate the Simple Things
As anyone who has ever tried to practice gratitude knows, it isn't always so easy. In fact, it can be quite challenging to find appreciation for the positive aspects that make up our lives, especially when we face tough circumstances or difficult emotions.
Give yourself permission to recognize what you are grateful for. This can be anything from realizing you did something well, to the more important things in life, like spending time with the people you love.
This type of gratitude is a form of "mindfulness", the ability to be more present and aware of your thoughts and the world around you, without being overly reactive. In other words, simply seeing things are they really are. Developing mindfulness helps you shut out unpleasant thoughts and feel less anxiety—which can lead to a more balanced outlook and a greater sense of peace.
While you might be facing difficult challenges at this moment, or feel like life has dealt you a bad hand, try to realize how lucky you are for all the things that you do have.
And best of all, recognizing what we are grateful for often leads us to realize that we already have what is most important to us—even if it's something as simple as our health or as valuable as our relationships with others.
2) Active Reflection with a Daily Gratitude List
Every evening, write down three things you are grateful for. A daily gratitude list, or journaling (as it is also referred to) is a simple but effective way to focus on the positive aspects of your life. "Active" reflection like this helps you focus more on the positive aspects of your life—and less on the negative—and helps you remember them long-term as well, so you can be an actively grateful person.
While it may be difficult to think of things to be grateful for at first, after a few days it will become easier as you start to notice the good things that happen to you throughout the day. Even on tough days, there is always something to appreciate. It can be anything from small pleasures like a delicious cup of coffee or a moment of laughter with a friend, to bigger things like good health or a safe place to call home.
Focusing on gratitude can help shift your perspective and make it easier to see the silver lining in any situation. Doing this exercise on a regular basis can also have lasting effects on your overall happiness and well-being. Over time, it can also help you become more positive person overall.
Not only will you become more aware of the blessings in your life, but this this can also help you better weather the storms when they come.
3) Make Gratitude a Family Tradition
A great way to practice gratitude is by doing so with those you love. When your family sits down to dinner, or when you talk to them on the phone, ask them what has made them grateful recently. You can introduce this subtly or make it an activity. You can find ideas online and even gratitude card decks on Amazon, Etsy, and Pinterest.
If your family doesn't eat dinner together, here's some science-backed benefits you might want to consider. Regardless, find a time for this in your family's daily routine.
Talking about things we're grateful for is a great way to bond with our loved ones and build deeper relationships—and model its importance with them (which may even help them better handle life's difficult moments). It can also help us to see the world from their perspective and understand what's important to them. And we also get to share in their happiness. What a great way to connect with those we love!
Making this a tradition can help you bring your entire family along on your gratitude journey. Plus, it helps to ensure that you continue to express thanks on a regular basis. So why not give it a try tonight? You might be surprised at how much everyone has to be thankful for.
Now Try it Out
"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others" –Cicero
Feeling grateful is a powerful way to cultivate happiness and well-being in our lives. When we stop to appreciate the people, experiences, and things that bring us joy, it allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the present moment—and worry less about the bad things (or even help change your perspective on them).
If you're having a hard time getting started with this practice of gratitude and being more mindful, here are some additional resources:
- 7 Ways to "Feel" Your Feelings
- Tips for Staying Sane During Trying Times
- The Many Dimensions of Wellness
- 10 Steps to Building Resilience & Conquering Challenges
With practice, you'll come to see that there is so much for which to be grateful for. So if you're ready to feel just a little bit more happy today and each day after, go ahead and give yourself permission to try these tips out. You deserve it!