You’ve probably heard about having a gratitude practice. If you haven’t, it’s one of many ways to increase overall happiness and contentment. There are a few different ways to do it that’ll I’ll share with you in a minute.
First, let me tell you why it works. Let’s do an exercise. Look around the room and spend the next 60 seconds looking for red objects. Go ahead- keep at it. Keep looking for those red objects. Now I bet that the next room you go in, you’ll start to notice red objects everywhere. Same goes for when you are researching a car online and suddenly you’ll see that car everywhere!
That’s what happens when you start looking for things you’re grateful for in your life. All day long you are looking because you’re going to maybe write it down or talk about it later.
You start scanning your world for things that make you feel content, happy, or fulfilled. The more you do it, the more it just becomes a thing you do without thinking about it. Research shows that a gratitude practice reduces negativity and emotions like greed, insecurity, bitterness, and more.
Here are 4 ways you can incorporate a daily gratitude practice.
- Gratitude Journal: write down 3 things you’re grateful for and why (this can be something very simple like a good cup of coffee). There are tons of apps that do this too. Also, write down why you’re thankful for that thing.
- Gratitude pictures: look for things to take pictures of that you love. It’ll make it more salient and memorable.
- Gratitude penpals: Write letters to people whom you are grateful to or for. It’s even better if you can read the letter in person or even on the phone. I did this with my parents- I picked three things that I’m thankful for about them and told them in person.
- Associate cues in your environment with feelings of gratitude: pause and ask how did a location support you or make you feel good (even rooms in your house!). Pick a few cues to start with like walking in the door (thankful for a house or a job), getting a cup out of the cupboard (thankful for water, beer, etc), putting on your shoes (getting to go somewhere, having shoes, having feet, being able to walk)… You can do it outside too. Next time you visit that spot, you’ll have positive emotions from your memories. Ask why you’re thankful.
If you’re struggling in one area of your life, you can use a gratitude practice in a concentrated way. You could keep a gratitude journal for your job, for a spouse or friend, or even for yourself.
One caveat: expressing gratitude in life doesn’t mean you negate or ignore difficult emotions. It means you still feel them and accept them, but you can still be scanning the world for things going well, things going right and silver linings.
If you want to learn more about gratitude practices and positive psychology, check out Martin Seligman, PhD and Sonja Lyubomirsky, Phd.