Unless you’ve been hiding under a very big rock, I’m sure you’ve heard people speak of the importance of gratitude and having a daily gratitude practice. If you’ve heard the reports and messages but haven’t made gratitude a piece of your life, this is the perfect blog for you. Consider this your beginner’s guide to gratitude. I’ll explain the importance of practicing gratitude and then provide 5 ways that you could start practicing gratitude today. Let’s go!

Why Gratitude?

Oh my goodness, where do I start? In research, gratitude is consistently related to greater happiness, closer relationships, and less mental health issues. Gratitude helps you feel more positive emotions, improves your health, helps you cope with difficult situations, helps you be resilient, helps you build strong relationships and helps you relish in the good things happening in your life. An attitude of gratitude has been shown to increase patience, improve decision making, reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, increase frequency of exercise, increase self esteem, decrease depression, improve friendships, make us more optimistic, and make us less likely to abuse substances, 

In case you need more reasons to choose to start some sort of intentional gratitude practice, here are two specific ways it’s helped me in my life and practice.  First, remember that thought model I’ve mentioned every single episode? Then you remember that our feelings come from the thoughts we focus on. If we consciously interrupt our day to re-direct our mind towards more grateful thoughts, we’ll routinely be in a more positive emotional state. Secondly, gratitude changes the brain! When you choose to focus on a grateful thought over a non-grateful or more negative thought, you actually start a new neuropathway in your brain. What does this mean for you? It means that the next time you are in a similar situation, not only is it easier to choose a thought that will generate some of those positive effects just mentioned, it is equally less likely that you’ll get stuck in a downward spiral of negative or critical thinking. 

If you’re still on the fence as to whether you want to add some sort of gratitude routine to your life, here are three quick questions for you:

  1. How do you feel when you’re thinking about the things that are going well in your life?
  2. How do you feel when you think about the things in your life that you love?
  3. Do you like feeling that way?

I do. And I’m not alone. When we’re thinking about what’s going well in our life and what we love, we are cultivating gratitude. As I’ve said, study after study shows that the more grateful we feel, the better off we are in all aspects of our lives. You ready? Let’s look at how we can add gratitude to our lives to get some of these benefits?

How To Add Gratitude to Our Days

Like anything else, start small and keep it simple. Here are five ways I deliberately and consciously add gratitude to my and my family’s life. Choose one and get started today:

1) GTP:

When my family and I sit down to eat together, we tell each other our GTPs: What we’re Grateful, Thankful, and Proud of ourselves for. Because I live with teenagers, there are a couple of ground rules: (1) We don’t interrupt anyone when they’re telling their GTPs, (2) we do this before we get up from the table. Sometimes one of our GTPs will spark a conversation and so we will be all done eating before everyone shared their GTPs. That’s fine. We all get a turn.  (3) Our GTPs need to be unique. Even if we’re all grateful for the delicious food, only one of us can say that. This encourages reluctant share-ers to go first and, if our GTP was just taken, it allows our brain to look for other things to be grateful for. (4) Flexibility: Like any household habit or tradition, as a mom I need to be flexible. If a child asks for us to not do them at a certain meal (usually because a friend is there for dinner), I honor that. When you’re practicing gratitude routinely, missing a day will not bring you back to square zero.

2) Bookend Gratitude:

The more you get in the habit of deliberately pausing for gratitude, the more your brain will search for (and find) things that are going well in your life. Because of this, I start and finish my day with gratitude. Before I get started with my work day, I think of at least 3 things I’m happy about (about that day or about life in general). If it’s a weekend, I do it before I finish my coffee. When I lay down to sleep at night, I share 3 things I’m grateful for with my partner. Here are several ways you can add these bookends into your life. Choose one and try it for a week:

  • Get a gratitude buddy and decide to text your 3 things to each other morning and night. 
  • If you’re a single parent (or your spouse is an over-worker), share things you’re grateful for with your kids in the morning and when you tuck them in at night. 
  • Keep a notebook in your purse and another by your bed to write what you’re grateful for in the AM and PM.
  • Get an app and have them keep you accountable (they usually have some sort of reminder system you can set up). Here are three I’ve used before: Gratitude Morning, The Gratitude Journal, and the Yellow Notes App on your phone.

3) Gratitude Alarm:

Set an alarm on your phone that says: “What are you grateful for?” and, when it goes off stop to think of at least two things you’re grateful for right then. Look around. What is great about your life? Stop what you’re doing, put your phone down, and find something to savor. Look out the window. Is the sky pretty? How does your chair feel under your butt? Slow down to savor the little things in your life. [tweetshareinline tweet=”Gratitude is the number one indicator of whether someone feels joy in their life or not. Get in the habit of gratitude.” username=”SusieBarolo”] My alarm is set for 2:10 PM and I invite you to join me and we can shine those gratitude vibes out together.  It takes 30 seconds (or less) and has profound benefits

4) Get Out There Gratitude:

In order to be grateful we must have perspective. What do I mean by perspective? Think of how you feel extra grateful for your heated house in the days after your broken furnace has been fixed. Or, think of how you are super appreciative of your healthy teeth after you’ve had the experience of a tooth ache. This is called “Get Out There Gratitude” because sometimes everyone around us looks like their lives are rosy perfect (Facebook newsfeed anyone?!). Don’t be fooled. Everyone is struggling with something. In fact, I’ve found that the fancier or happier their posts appear the worse their reality actually is. Yet, since the people around you look pretty darn good, get out of your normal area and head to a different area of town. Visiting your local homeless shelter or food kitchen would be a wonderful way to do this but, as it takes planning, often we put it off. Instead, go to a supermarket or coffee shop in a different area of town, preferably one where you know people struggle more financially. Travel is another great way to gain perspective and thus, increase your gratitude. Not only is your bed super comfortable when you return, you see things when traveling that are not like you are accustomed to at home. If nothing else, turn on a documentary and watch people who don’t have running water. You’ll appreciate your water faucet a bit more the next day.[tweetshare tweet=”When we direct our brain to look for what we can be grateful for, our brain can’t look for what there is to not be grateful for. ” username=”SusieBarolo”]

5) Cynical Gratitude:

This is for those of you who might view the glass as half empty or have a harder time seeing the positives in your day. This is along the same lines as #3 above where you need to set a daily alarm. This time when it goes off, instead of thinking of 2 things that you’re grateful for, think of 2 things that aren’t going wrong right then. Seriously. Your brain will get to work to look for something that’s not wrong and when it’s doing that, it can’t focus on what is not going well or that is wrong. No matter how crappy my life felt in any given moment, there was always something not going wrong. That’s what I’d like you to look for, even if everything else seems to be falling down around you, what isn’t? 

Now Just Start

So to recap, it’s time to start some sort of regular gratitude practice. It is not over-stating the fact that it will change your life. With all of the positive affects of gratitude (lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better sleep, better relationships), I argue it’s one of the most important pieces of wellness. Let me know which of the five ways above you will give a try (or if you have your own fun way of bringing gratitude into your lives). The more we manage our mind to see things in positive way and stay away form negative unproductive thinking, the more good we bring to this world. It’s not about ignoring things that are going wrong. It’s about moving through those things while keeping perspective of our inner selves and abilities. It’s time warriors. I’m grateful for you!

If you haven’t written a podcast review yet, what are you waiting for? Head over to iTunes and leave a rating and review. I am raffling off 2 gift cards this month, each worth $25. If you live in the DC area, the gift card will be to a local restaurant with delicious food called Lebanese Taverna. If you live outside the DC/Baltimore area, I’ll send you a $25 Amazon gift card.I mean, come on…leave a review so you have one more thing to be grateful for!