I’ve been working on maintaining a consistent gratitude practice for a little over a year now. With a busy career in communications, my social life, and responsibilities at home, I often catch myself rushing from one thing to the next, to the point where even social activities become something to tick off the to-do list.
It was when I realized my schedule was so full that I was no longer finding enjoyment in it, that I committed to regularly making time to stop and appreciate the life moments I usually race through. After all, it’s scientifically proven that giving thanks makes you happier, and taking a moment each day to pause and reflect was a welcome antidote to my usual hectic pace of life.
Yet, even after a year of intentionally practicing gratitude, there are still times when I struggle to list three things that I’m grateful for. On a good day, I’ll be grateful for the sun shining, the food on my plate, the shoes on my feet, you name it. Then there are days like today, when the news is full of stories of the world falling apart, the COVID-19 pandemic is still very real, and nothing I do seems to turn out right. On those days, it can be hard to shift feelings of anger or frustration to something more positive.
Even in my most uninspired moments, I know I’m lucky that there is always something to be grateful for. I find it helps to ask myself a more specific question. Instead of “What am I grateful for today?” I might ask “Who am I grateful for?” “What possession am I grateful for?” or “What moment in my day am I grateful for?”
It’s not about changing my reality; just changing my perspective. If you’ve ever had the experience of staring at a blank page wondering why you can’t find gratitude, check out some tips that have worked for me to reconnect with a feeling of thankfulness.
Take the pressure off
The first thought I had when wondering how to deepen my gratitude practice was, “I should probably buy a new notebook,” and that’s half the problem right there. If you’ve ever been inspired by gratitude practices displayed on Pinterest or Instagram, you’ll know that the only way to have a fulfilling practice is to write by candlelight, at sunrise or sunset, with an artistically placed herbal tea.
I once put off journaling for weeks when I heard on a podcast that for gratitude to “work” you had to wait until you could literally feel the happy hormones developing as you wrote. Unsurprisingly, when I didn’t experience an instant mood change as I journaled, I felt cheated.
The thing to remember about a gratitude practice, though, is that it is a practice, and every day you sit down to do it, you’re flexing that muscle. Gratitude is inner work and very personal, so whether you find more meaning in turning it into a ritual, or simply choose to keep a note on your phone, there is no wrong way to get started.
Social media can amplify the feeling that some people have it all. While I know I have so much to be thankful for, it doesn’t always feel that way when I’m bombarded with stories of friends traveling on luxury vacations, smashing their half marathon personal best, and getting engaged.
Rather than starting from a place of comparison, I find it helps to take things back to basics. My favorite place to practice gratitude is sitting at my tiny kitchen table, where I have a view of the local park behind my flat. There’s so much to feel grateful for just in that one room: the food in my refrigerator; the view of something green and growing; clean, running water.
Don’t get me wrong, I am of course grateful for those special, shareable moments in life, but it’s important to remember that those experiences are often fleeting. Coming back to everyday moments of happiness, like a hot cup of coffee in my favorite mug, helps me feel more centered and gives me a sense of well-being that lasts longer than a vacation. Is there an everyday item or ritual in your life that you’re grateful for?
Get some perspective by getting outside
For me, gratitude is linked with simplicity — you have to find simple pleasures if you want to be grateful every day! When the pressures of adult life get in the way of feeling thankful, I take inspiration from the simpler days of my childhood to find moments of calm.
Some of my fondest memories are times when I was outside exploring: finding shiny chestnuts freshly fallen from the tree, catching minnows by pulling a fishing net through the reeds, or mixing up mystery potions of grass and flower petals with my sister.
When I’m stuck in a negative rut, I know getting outside in nature will help me find moments of joy. Living in London, it’s been years since I’ve been out with a fishing net, but scouring the ground for chestnuts each fall is a tradition that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Try getting out into the world today — you might be surprised by the change in your mood or the moments of gratitude that can be found in the surroundings we sometimes take for granted.