3 Ways to Build a Gratitude Practice
Gratitude is on our minds this month. Every year around this time we start noticing the world shift towards gratitude and giving. I even wrote an essay about gratitude here, after reflecting on the first year of my son's life.
Maybe it’s that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, or perhaps end-of-the-year generosity is kicking in. Maybe it’s the colder and darker days that have us in a state of reflection and contemplation. Whatever it is, now is as good a time as any to start or invigorate your gratitude practice.
But first, why practice gratitude??
Improve physical health
Improve psychological health
Improve self esteem
Increase empathy + decrease aggression
Reduce social comparison
Cultivate mental strength
With so many benefits associated with a gratitude practice, it's hard to think of a reason to not be grateful! But, life happens. Responsibilities at work, at home, world events, bad news, these things all pile on day after day. It can become difficult to see
Here are 3 simple and easy ways to start your personal gratitude practice.
1. Practice Metta Meditation
Metta means loving-kindness. In a metta meditation you work on cultivating kindness towards yourself and others. It is most often done seated in silence as you repeat several phrases to yourself in your mind.
When you cultivate loving-kindness, gratitude follows. Acts of kindness are a way to express gratitude.
You can try it right now! In our 10-Minute Tune-Up: Metta Meditation we will practice bringing in loving-kindness towards ourselves, a loved one, a neutral person, a difficult person, and to all beings everywhere. As you walk with me through this guided meditation I ask that you pay attention to how you feel both physically and mentally during each phase. I hope this practice brings you peace and gratitude.
The idea of sending loving thoughts to yourself and others seems so benign. When you get deep into the practice, you might find that it's not so simple after all. We all have past relationships, thought patterns, preconceived ideas about the people that might come up in a metta meditation. When we are asked to send loving-kindness to a "difficult person" a flood of emotions may arise. That is ok. It's good! Allowing ourselves to feel, to be human, is part of the practice.
It's not important to be perfect. It's not necessary for this to be easy for it to be beneficial. The beauty in the practice comes after many repetitions. Come back to this meditation weekly or monthly and track your progress over time. What might seem difficult or near impossible at first, could possibly become easeful and grounding.
2. Start a Gratitude Journal
Journaling is a great way to put what’s going on in your mind down on paper, so to speak. A typical gratitude journaling practice asks you to write down 3 things each day that you are grateful for. It seem so easy, and it can be! But how about at the end of a tough day? Or a string of hard days? It becomes harder to see what’s good in your life when things seem awry.
Creating and solidifying a new habit can make it easier. Try adding your journaling to your nighttime routine. Make it easy on yourself and leave your jounal on your nightstand with a pen at the ready. Or, get digital and practice your journaling at a time when you're already at your computer.
Build awareness and look for patterns as you scan through your previous entries. You can learn to identify sources of stress and then start to eliminate or reduce them from your life. Perhaps you notice that ever 3 weeks your journaling shows a pattern of the things you wrote down. Get curious as to why that might be. Or, perhaps every spring you notice a change in your entries. Hmm, I wonder why? Once you investigate the root causes for the changes, then you can choose to address them with mindfulness.
Focus on what matters. The good stuff bubbles to the top, the rest fades to the background.
Keep it Simple. Write down the first few things that come to mind.
Boost your mood by using your gratitude journal as a reference. When you’re feeling low, look back at the things you have written.
3. Communicate Your Gratitude
Practicing gratitude alone has many benefits, as stated above. Those benefits start to grow when you share your gratitude outside of your self. It sounds easy, but it can make us feel vulnerable, shy or awkward to share our feelings of gratitude with others.
Start small. Make it a habit to say "thank you" whenever you can. We learned this as children, but it seems to have faded from most adults' repertoire.
Take it up a notch. Commit to showing your gratitude to people in your life with small acts of kindness. Loving-kindness knows no bounds. Observe the needs and wants of someone else and provide for them when you can. Go out of your way to tell someone how much they mean to you. Suck it up and say sorry for things you may have done to slight or offend someone else.
The more we practice seeing the goodness in ourselves through loving-kindness, gratitude and release of self-judgment, the more we are able to do those things for others as well.
Every November we launch our Virtual Wellbeing Box: Grounded In Gratitude to help our clients begin a gratitude practice. This program is usually reserved for our corporate clients, but this year we've made it available to individuals as well. You can register here to get started, or contact your HR department to see if they'll provide the program to your whole office.
Our programs are all rooted in mindfulness. In the Grounded In Gratitude program we'll practice cultivating gratitude though mindful movement, meditation and breath-work. As a sneak peak, please enjoy our 10-Minute Tune-Up: Grateful Movement to get a taste of our teaching style. You can sign up to receive these free weekly videos here.
If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our newsletter to receive weekly 10-Minute Tune-Ups and wellbeing inspiration. These classes are quick office-friendly chair yoga and meditation breaks to get you moving, breathing, and de-stressed - no change of clothing or equipment needed. We sure are grateful for all of our readers, subscribers and students!
Nicole Elipas Doherty
Co-Founder + CEO