Practicing Gratitude

In a previous post, I shared that November is one of my favorite months. Now that autumn has arrived in New England, the leaves are fully peaked and the air is chilled. It’s the perfect weather to get lost in a bundle of blankets and curl up with a good book and a hot mug of tea.

November is also the perfect month to practice gratitude. For those who live in the U.S., Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And for those who went to public school, the notion of “being thankful” was drilled into our heads every November for years. I should ask my mom how many art projects I brought home every year that consisted of my hand looking like a turkey, each finger listing what I was grateful for. She probably still has them!

As an adult, I laugh at the turkey hand memory but appreciate that my teachers attempted to instill a sense of gratitude in us during this important season. I have been a bit “gratitude” obsessed for a few years now (see these blog posts from 2015 and 2016), and for good reason: keeping and cultivating a sense of gratitude is a key component to your happiness. It helps center you in the present moment as you reflect on what brings you joy in life.

Since I started therapy in 2013, I have been keeping regular gratitude journals. Before bed each night, I silently think of three things I am grateful for — whether it is a certain moment that happened in the day, a person, or a general part of my life that sparks gratitude. It helps keep me focused, and works to eliminate the negative thoughts that tend to plague me as I try to fall asleep at night.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, it felt like there wasn’t a lot to be grateful for. This pandemic has impacted the lives of so many; to think of anything positive during this time made me feel guilty. But, I had to do it. Despite the guilt, I continued to reflect on my own gratitude, listing my three items each night before I closed my eyes. I won’t say that it always kept the nightmares away; it didn’t always chase away the fear and negative thoughts. But it did help ground me in the present; it helped me be thankful for my health and the health of my loved ones.

Over the years, I have also followed Dani on Positively Present. Dani is an incredibly talented digital artist and creator, whose original blog idea turned into a brand focused on positivity and mental health. Her work is truly inspiring and I enjoy seeing her content daily on Instagram. Dani has also released books, calendars, workbooks, and other products that I have on my birthday and Christmas list this year.

Dani has also hosted a #Gratitude30 Challenge for 11 years. Through #Gratitude30, Dani posts 30 prompts and challenges you to write down what you are grateful for each day. A few examples are words, nature, health, friendship, growth, family, and kindness. I have been participating in her challenge for a few years now, and I love sitting down each morning with my special colored pens and reflecting on what brings me gratitude. It’s a wonderful practice and way to get you in the swing of practicing gratitude each day.

No matter how you practice gratitude, remember that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Even saying “thank you” to someone is a grateful act! Do you have pictures of loved ones at your desk at work or in your home office? That’s a great start, too! Take time throughout the day to reflect on what you are thankful for, and you will start to feel the difference.

How do you practice gratitude? Share some more ideas in the comments below.

How to “Fall” into the Habit of Gratitude

If you know me even just a little (like following me on social media) you know that autumn is my favorite season. The foliage, warm sweaters, fuzzy blankets, hot chocolate, Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, cooler weather —the list goes on and on! Fall is also the time last year where I really started to focus on gratitude, like how to cultivate it and how to share it with others.

When I was going through treatment, my therapist suggested that every night, instead of going to bed with negative, looming thoughts, I counteract them with positive ones. It was interesting to hear him suggest that, for I was simultaneously reading The Happiness Project and Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was also reading a number of blogs and articles on effective ways to boost my happiness and how to foster a sense of gratitude. After my session, I started a gratitude journal that I write in almost daily and track what makes me happy or what I am grateful for.  The entries range from a full account of spending a Sunday afternoon with my family to bulleted lists. Whatever brings me joy, I write it down.

With the holiday season fast approaching, I decided that November would be my month of “Thankful-LIST” (a play on words of “thankfulness). Yesterday, (November 1), I started generating a list of things I am thankful for and plan on continuing the list every day until November 30. This is going to be fun! It’s the perfect time to reflect on all of the positive, happy things going on in your life!

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Since starting my gratitude journal last year, I have discovered that keeping and cultivating gratitude is essential to my happiness. Being grateful helps block out the ugly, negative thoughts that may be clouding my vision including envy, resentment, and regret. Studies show that people who are grateful are more optimistic, connected to other people, and have stronger bonds with their friends, family, and loved ones.

The word “gratitude” comes from the Latin term, “gratia,” which also means grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. According to multiple studies, having gratitude promotes better sleep, increases energy, reduces troublesome thoughts, increases generosity and compassion, and reduces those feelings of loneliness and isolation. Studies also find that people who express gratitude regularly have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and are more forgiving and outgoing individuals.

It truly has worked. I find that when I counteract a few dark thoughts with positive ones, I become happier. With a little perspective, I am able to boost my mood and help boost the moods of others, too. Last December, I listed some ways to help cultivate gratitude, like writing thank you notes, mentally counting your blessings, and one that I found recently, is complimenting others. All of these steps truly help you cultivate gratitude and become a happier person.

So, try it out! You will be surprised with the results.

What’s on my Thankful-LIST so far?

  • My wedding photos came in!
  • Annie’s mac and cheese
  • My best friend is getting married next year
  • I beat my time running a mile at the gym!
  • My birthday is next week!
  • Fantastic Beasts on Nov. 18 with some great friends
  • Gilmore Girls revival on Nov. 25
  • Apple crisp…mmm…

How do you cultivate gratitude? Share in the comments below!