Today’s post is all about gratitude practices. Specifically how to start a gratitude practice of your own. And how it can improve your outlook, your mindset and your life!
About 4 years ago, I was hearing a lot about gratitude and gratitude practices but didn’t have a practice myself.
I thought I was already positive “enough”. But I had also been 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 mindset and thought patterns.
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My own decision to start a gratitude practice
That’s what prompted me to start a gratitude practice. I had enough of getting sucked into this negative way of thinking and knew it was time to try something different.
I had already noticed how living a more 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 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.
And over the years of using a gratitude practice, in all the various forms my practice has taken, the positive benefits of focusing on gratitude have only increased and had more of an impact on my life!
What is a gratitude practice?
Before we get into the details of how to start a gratitude practice for yourself, let’s first get clear about what a gratitude practice is.
First of all, gratitude itself is the act of noticing and appreciating 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, rather than getting stuck in a cycle of negativity and complaining, takes some practice and commitment.
Why is gratitude important?
Having a grateful mindset changes the way you see the world around you and how you 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 well.
Our brains love to gather evidence to support our thoughts and beliefs. Whatever you focus on, your brain will automatically start gathering evidence to further support and confirm those thoughts and beliefs.
When you focus on gratitude and the good things in your life, you’ll automatically start noticing more good things to be grateful for as you go about your day. Your brain will be working to confirm your grateful thoughts and feelings.
The same goes for when you’re in a negative mindset. Every time you feel negative or complain about something, your brain will start gathering evidence to prove those thoughts are right. Your negative mindset starts to feed off itself and can really suck you in. And we all know how draining negativity can be. And how miserable it can make you feel when you get stuck in this cycle.
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, pulls you out of a cycle of negativity and helps your brain continue to gather evidence of all the things you can feel grateful for.
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, but you may be thinking, how do you actually start a gratitude practice?
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 you can do it in just 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 mindset 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.
And as a bonus, the more you practice finding things to be grateful for, the more you will find to be grateful for. You notice what you pay attention to. So, the more you consciously make an effort to notice and appreciate things to feel grateful for, the more you’ll find to feel 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 practice 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 a simple, but powerful way to shift your focus to gratitude.
Writing down what you’re grateful for allows you to take a moment to really focus on gratitude. It also encourages you to start noticing and looking for moments throughout the day to add to your gratitude journal.
The key is to be specific. You don’t want your gratitude practice to get boring and stale by writing the same generic things 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 today.
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. Or gratitude for my husband who works so hard to support our family. The point is to think of specific things to keep your gratitude practice authentic and fresh.
When to write in a gratitude journal
You can write in your gratitude journal in the morning, in the evenings or all throughout the day as you notice something you feel grateful for.
I like jotting down a few things I’m grateful for in the morning, to help put me in a positive and grateful mindset to start the day. I also like taking a few minutes to reflect on the things I felt grateful for during the day at the end of the day.
When I add to my gratitude journal before bed, I love how it helps me look for and notice things to be grateful for throughout the day. This noticing has made me more aware of all the good things around me throughout the day to feel grateful for.
I currently use “The Five-Minute Journal”, which is a really simple and effective way to add gratitude to the start and end of your days with its quick, guided prompts.
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 writing about gratitude.
A great way to start is by writing down 3 things you’re grateful for each day. You can write one word, a short sentence, or a couple of lines about each thing. 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, maybe you’re grateful for your warm and cozy socks that keep your 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.
Recently, I’ve shifted my gratitude list to a list of tiny delights instead, inspired by the Quiet Matters podcast.
A list of tiny delights is exactly what it sounds like. A list of anything, big or small that felt delightful to you that day. It feels like a really low-pressure way to start a gratitude practice and shift your mindset to gratitude.
3. Practice mindful moments of gratitude
Another easy way to add more gratitude to your day is taking 1 or 2 minutes every day and practicing 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 pyjamas, 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.
Stacking this habit with brushing my teeth helps me remember to add these mindful moments to the day.
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.
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 you can 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 when you feel grateful for them.
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’re 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.
My kids and I have a simple gratitude practice every night at bedtime. We have a gratitude journal we use together. And each night we all say one thing we’re grateful for to add to the journal.
I love hearing what my kids are grateful for or what the highlight of their day was. It often surprises me because they’ll pick a random moment or thing I would never think of. I love how this simple practice and ritual 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 focus on your intentions and new habits you’re trying to build.
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. Maybe framing a gratitude quote or affirmation on your wall would work for you. 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 while you drink from it.
You can set reminders in your phone to automatically 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 keep going. While consistency is important to establish a new habit of gratitude, so is kindness towards yourself and giving yourself some grace.
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 easily 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 return your focus to 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!