I’ve always heard of the benefits of practicing gratitude but had yet to really try it for myself. But now that I have decided to start a gratitude practice, I can’t believe I waited this long to try it!
I thought I was already positive “enough”. But early this fall I began noticing myself feeling negative a lot. I was getting irritated and annoyed easily by little things. And just found a lot of negativity and complaining showing up in my thought patterns.
My own decision to start a gratitude practice
I decided I had enough of getting sucked into this negative way of thinking and decided to start a gratitude practice.
When I decided to start my gratitude practice I thought it would involve doing a few little things on a daily basis to bring more gratitude and positivity into my life. I knew living a minimalist lifestyle was helping me feel more gratitude for all the things, tangible and intangible, that fill my life. But I was ready to become even more intentional about feeling grateful. I honestly wasn’t expecting dramatic changes but thought it couldn’t hurt to try.
Boy was I wrong! The decision to start a gratitude practice and focus more on feeling grateful and positive not only changed my attitude, it changed everything! My relationship with my kids and husband, my outlook, my yoga practice, my feelings of self-worth, my minimalist journey, my journey through grief, my attitude, my thought patterns, even the way I see the world around me, all changed. I can’t even name all the ways choosing to start a gratitude practice has had a positive impact on my life.
What is a gratitude practice?
While I’m still relatively new to practicing gratitude, I can’t wait to share the impact practicing gratitude can have on your life. But what exactly is a gratitude practice?
First of all, gratitude itself is the act of noticing and appreciating all the good things in your life. So from there, a gratitude practice is training yourself to notice and appreciate the good things, then expressing gratitude for them.
It sounds simple, and in theory, it is simple. But training yourself to focus on what you’re grateful for, instead of the negative things going on around you, takes practice and commitment.
Why is gratitude important?
Having a grateful mindset changes the way we see the world around us and how we think. Gratitude shifts your perspective so you begin to notice and appreciate all the good things around you. And you start to think more positively as a result.
The more you focus on gratitude and the good things in your life, the more good things you notice to be grateful for.
Negativity is very draining, and it’s a state of mind that can really suck you in. Once you’re in a negative mindset, the negativity feeds off itself, until your whole focus is on the negative. And this only makes you feel more miserable as a result.
But focusing on gratitude helps you actively change your mindset, thought patterns and perspective. Focusing on what you’re grateful for trains your mind to look for the positive, and pulls you out of a cycle of negativity.
Beyond this, studies have shown practicing gratitude has many other benefits as well. For example more happiness, better relationships, more resilience, better sleep, improved health, higher self-esteem, etc. It’s really amazing how being mindful throughout your day to focus on gratitude can have such a huge impact on your life.
How to start a gratitude practice
This all sounds great, so now you may be thinking, how do you actually start a gratitude practice? And here’s the best part: it’s really easy to start a gratitude practice! It doesn’t cost anything, you don’t need any special materials or tools, and all you need are a few minutes a day.
Here are my favourite ways to start a gratitude practice and start experiencing the benefits of living gratefully:
1. Make gratitude a habit
New habits take practice and consistency to form. And starting a gratitude practice is no different. Commit to working on your gratitude practice for a few minutes every day for a month, to begin with.
Shifting your mindset to gratitude means you need to re-train your behaviour and thought patterns away from negativity and towards positivity and gratitude. This won’t happen overnight. But by committing to spending just a few minutes every day focusing on gratitude, you’ll build the habit of gratitude in your life.
The more you practice finding things to be grateful for, the more you find to be grateful for. You notice what you pay attention to. So, if you are consciously making an effort to find positive things and things to feel grateful for, the more you’ll find to feel grateful for.
It works the same way with negative thoughts. The more you pay attention to negativity, the more negativity you’ll find. Shift your focus to gratitude and you’ll always find more to be grateful for.
When you notice yourself slipping into a place of negativity and complaining, make a conscious effort to shift to gratitude instead.
My real life example:
We live in a place with long, cold, snowy winters. I’m not someone who naturally enjoys cold or snow, so it’s easy for me to complain and think negatively about our weather. One night recently, it was cold and snowing and I noticed my knee-jerk, negative reaction. I caught myself immediately thinking “Great, more snow. I’m cold. I hate winter.” and so on.
But now I’m practicing catching myself and stopping those negative thought patterns and finding something to be grateful for instead.
On this night, I consciously made the choice to find something to be grateful for. I started noticing how beautiful the falling snow was, and the way the snow caught the light and made everything sparkle. Then I noticed how warm and cozy my coat and boots are. Then how crisp and fresh the air felt.
Suddenly I went from grumbling and complaining, to noticing the beauty and good things around me and feeling grateful for that snowy night. In just a few mindful moments, my night completely turned around.
2. Start a gratitude journal
This was the most common recommendation I read about when learning how to start a gratitude practice. And for good reason. It’s such a simple, but powerful and lovely way to shift your focus to gratitude.
Writing down what I’m grateful for allows me to take a moment to really focus on gratitude. It also makes me start to notice and look for moments throughout the day to add to my gratitude journal.
The key for me is to be specific. I don’t want my gratitude practice to get boring and stale by writing the same generic thing every day.
For example, instead of writing “my family” every day as something I’m grateful for, even though it’s true, I try to get more specific. I try to think of a specific moment or event that makes me grateful for my family. It could be the way my son surprised me with a sweet kiss on the cheek and bear hug out of the blue. Or a conversation I got to have with my daughter at bedtime. The point is to think of specific things to keep your gratitude practice authentic and fresh.
Originally, I was writing in my gratitude journal in the morning. But lately, I’ve been writing in it in the evenings, which I actually prefer.
I find myself looking for and noticing what I’m grateful for throughout the day to write in my gratitude journal. And this noticing has made me more aware of all the good things around me throughout the day to feel grateful for. Then I write my top 3 moments of gratitude in my journal at the end of the day.
Keep it simple
The important thing to remember when starting a gratitude journal is to keep it simple. You don’t need a special journal or to spend hours or write pages. I like to write down 3 things I’m grateful for each day, usually about a sentence each. You can even start by writing one thing you’re grateful for each day.
And remember, the things you write down in your gratitude journal don’t always have to be deep or serious. It can be little things you’re grateful for too. For example, one day I wrote down that I was grateful for my warm and cozy socks that kept my feet toasty all day.
The goal is to notice anything in your life, big or small, that you feel gratitude for. The more you notice and acknowledge the things you’re grateful for, the more you’ll find to feel grateful for in the first place.
3. Practice mindful moments of gratitude
I like to take 1 or 2 minutes every day and practice what I call “mindful moments of gratitude”. Simply take a few moments and focus on the present, wherever you are, and start noticing and mentally saying everything you’re grateful for.
I often do this as I brush my teeth. I have an electric toothbrush that is set to run for 2 minutes. While I’m brushing I think of everything and anything I feel grateful for in that moment, big or small. For example, access to safe water, my cozy pajamas, my warm bed waiting for me, the yoga practice I did, my favourite show I’m about to watch, the colour of my bathroom, a loving husband, etc.
It’s amazing how taking those 1 or 2 minutes can completely shift my perspective and put me into a mindset full of gratitude and positivity. I’ve already shared how minimalism has allowed me to live more mindfully. And how minimalism and mindfulness make an excellent pair. Adding in mindful moments of gratitude has been a wonderful addition of mindfulness in my life.
You can even take it a step further and do a gratitude meditation. There are many guided gratitude meditations online. Or you can simply focus on what you’re grateful for during meditation. Or even repeat a simple gratitude affirmation like “I am grateful” during your meditation practice.
4. Share your gratitude
A great way to bring more feelings of gratitude into your life is to share and spread your gratitude around. Just like a smile can be contagious, so is a positive, grateful outlook. Simply modelling a grateful attitude is a great way to share your gratitude practice.
Sharing your gratitude can also be as easy as genuinely saying thank you to someone you appreciate. Or giving someone a compliment.
Writing and sending thank you notes is another great way to express and share your gratitude. Even mentally thanking someone helps put you in a grateful mindset.
Speaking about what you are grateful for is another easy way to share your gratitude. It can inspire people around you to notice the good things and feel grateful too.
Another great way to share your gratitude is to encourage the people around you to express their own gratitude. This is especially fun to do with kids.
I try to make a point of asking each of my kids what their favourite part of the day was each day. I love hearing what the highlight of their day was. It often surprises me because they’ll pick some random moment I would never think of as their favourite. I love that asking them their favourite moment lets me see the world through their eyes. And reminds me that the simple moments are often the best moments for kids.
5. Use gratitude reminders
I’m a big fan of visual reminders to help me focus on my intentions. There are many ways to use gratitude reminders. It could be as simple as putting a sticky note on your bathroom mirror that says “I am grateful” or a quote that inspires gratitude for you. Or maybe framing a gratitude quote or affirmation on your wall. Even a mug with a positive saying on it, or one you just designate as your gratitude mug, can be a great reminder to focus on gratitude.
You can set reminders on your phone to remind you to find things to be grateful for throughout the day. Or change your phone wallpaper to a quote or affirmation that reminds you to be grateful.
Wearing a piece of jewelry that reminds you to focus on gratitude is another great visual reminder. It could be a bracelet that actually says “gratitude” on it, for example. Or simply a piece of jewelry you have chosen to remind you of your intention to focus on gratitude.
6. Give yourself some grace
Above all else, don’t make your gratitude practice a chore, or just another thing on your to-do list. If you miss a day in your gratitude journal, don’t feel upset or disappointed with yourself. Simply pick up where you are and write in your gratitude journal today. While consistency is important to establish a new habit of gratitude, so is kindness towards yourself.
If you find yourself in a negative, complaining mood, don’t be angry with yourself, like you’re “failing” at your gratitude practice. Take it as a reminder to look for something to be grateful for instead.
Keep your gratitude practice something you look forward to, not something that feels like a chore. Over time and with practice, gratitude will come more and more naturally.
On hard days when gratitude isn’t coming easily and you feel stuck in a negative mindset, a great way to pull yourself out of it is to remind yourself of all the things you have felt grateful for. Reading through your gratitude journal is a great way to shift your perspective.
The days it feels hardest to be grateful are usually the days you need gratitude the most. Be kind to yourself, start from where you are and keep your focus on gratitude.
Start a gratitude practice to make your life better!
Remember, starting a gratitude practice only takes a few minutes a day, and a few simple actions. But the impact it can have on your life is huge!
Do you have any kind of gratitude practice? How do you incorporate gratitude into your life? Leave a comment below and share your tips, tricks and questions!