Gratitude is an immensely powerful emotion that can help us through even the darkest of times. Gratitude is an expression of our appreciation for life, our experiences, and the people around us. Without gratitude we find ourselves feeling “stuck” and unable to find joy in life. We may become increasingly distressed that our expectations are not met or feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled in our lives. People who regularly practice gratitude experience more positive emotion, sleep better, feel more energized, are more satisfied in relationships and are overall more compassionate and kind towards others.
Sometimes we get so focused on life’s challenges that we lose sight of being grateful. It is easy to focus on what’s wrong and things that we would like to change. We may be quick to complain,moan, judge or feel entitled – attitudes that keep us from being present in this moment, and appreciating what life has to offer. Developing a new outlook on life isn’t easy, and practicing gratitude requires effort, especially if we are unaccustomed to it.
Gratitude requires conscious effort to choose not to take things for granted and notice even the smallest things; of simply being alive! Unfortunately in the fast paced world that we live in, we rarely give ourselves the chance to reflect on the people and things that are most precious to us. In the hubbub of life, the question is, “How can we bring gratitude to the forefront of our thinking?”
Tips to Reclaim Gratitude:
- Before getting out of bed in the morning, consider one possibility for goodness that the day can offer
- Start a “gratitude journal” and write one thing that you are grateful for each day – be specific, “I’m grateful for my family” isn’t the same as “Today my child gave me a hug and said I love you Mommy”
- Share your gratitude with someone and ask them to do the same for you
- Write a thank-you card
- Tell someone close to you how much they mean to you
- Spend five minutes being quiet and engage your five senses; pay attention to what you are sensing, hearing, smelling, seeing – and even tasting
- Identify one thing that you have learned when faced with a challenge
- Before you go to bed, reflect on one experience that made you smile
Practicing Gratitude in Difficult Times
There are times in everyone’s life when there doesn’t seem to be much of anything to be grateful for. How do we practice feeling grateful in the midst of tragedy when we are feeling sorrowful, scared, lonely and confused? In these circumstances, appreciating even the little things – like the sound of the waves, a stranger’s smile, a beautiful sunset or a good song on the radio can help change your outlook from despair to hope. Consider asking someone for help and reach out for support. When you do this you may begin to slowly shift your focus away from the pain and towards the experience of being together with someone else. You may even realize that you have as much to offer them as they have to offer you.
Remember that within every obstacle there is an invitation to heal and cope. Instead of trying to move through the difficult emotion quickly, challenge yourself to be aware of what is happening to your mood, your body and your thoughts. Be patient with yourself, as it takes a tremendous amount of practice to learn how to be “in the moment”. You can start by taking three deep abdominal breaths three times a day. Simply breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of 4 and exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 4. Once you notice your body relax, you will be more open to asking yourself the question: “What am I learning about myself?” Over time you will start to feel the momentum of your efforts and begin to regain gratitude for the gifts in your life.