If you’ve ever read any success literature or listened to CD programs about how to be successful or how to reach your goals, then you are very likely familiar with the current focus on “practicing gratitude.” There are many ways to accomplish this including such things as keeping a gratitude journal, writing little notes of gratitude directly to people you want to thank for something, putting up reminders on the wall where you work or in your home that say something about gratitude, posting words of thanks on social media, and so on. There is no one correct method. The idea is to pick something that works for you and do it. There are, however, some qualifications that can make the practice more effective which I’ll list here.
- Create a system of giving gratitude on a regular basis. It will have more punch than doing it sporadically.
- Write it down. This deepens the experience and encourages more thoughts about gratitude.
- Review what you’ve written down. This cements the feelings so to speak in your brain and over time can alter the way you perceive your own personal reality and circumstances.
- Make a specific time for focusing on gratitude instead of weaving it into other experiences. This will increase the potency of the feelings and pave the way for more, while at the same time creating a daily positive habit.
Here is a suggested practice you can try, and it goes without saying that you can adjust it to fit your schedule. The practice consists of writing 10 things you are grateful for every day. You can write out the list in a journal or type it on a computer. You could get creative and write it on sticky notes and place them around the house or office to remind yourself of them if you like. I like to type rather than write by hand, so I type my list on an iPad every morning. The items on the list may be elaborate such as saying thanks for something that went really well the day before and describing what happened, or very simple such as being grateful for sunshine that day. The content varies and it really doesn’t matter how simple or elaborate the items are, just so you write 10 things.
My preference is morning before the day has started because it helps set the tone for the day and energizes me before I begin work. Some people prefer the time before bed or in the later evening because they like to end the day on a good note before sleeping. Any time is fine, but it is more effective if the time of day you pick is the same every day. Choosing a regular time builds the practice into your daily routine and creates a habit, which means you are more likely to continue the practice. Also, by creating a regular habit, you prime your mind to look for things to be grateful for, and you begin to notice things more often that are going well.
The benefits can be subtle or obvious, and over time here’s what you might notice:
Emotional Shift from Negative to Positive
The mind very often gravitates toward the negative. For many, it is the default position. We focus on what we don’t have, don’t like, feel anxious about, and sometimes feel helpless to change. I have found that by writing a list of what I’m grateful for everyday, I am reprogramming my mind to look toward things that go right. It doesn’t mean that I don’t notice things that go wrong, it just means I also notice things that go right that normally might have remained under my mental radar. There is a greater balance in perception between the positive and negative. Ultimately, this can change or expand my overall view of reality to something that is more accurate and reflective of what my experience actually is.
Writing the list out and then reviewing it is almost always a mood changer. If I wake up uneasy, anxious, or just plain grumpy, by the time I’ve finished the list, my mood is much better and I approach the rest of the day with a better attitude and a willingness to engage rather than resisting what’s ahead. It’s like releasing the emergency brake in the car and you go forward much easier.
My level of appreciation for others is enhanced. I am noticing the many things people do for me, or the qualities I appreciate about them rather than focusing on what I’m unhappy about or don’t like. This change in reality creates a change in my level of emotional receptivity, especially to those with whom I am close, and ultimately improves the relationships. This doesn’t mean that I stop working on issues that concern me, but it does help to see others in a more balanced light and to notice what’s good. That appreciation translates to them, even if not consciously, to feelings of receptivity from me and they are more likely to respond positively. It’s a win-win.
The Habitual Aspect of It Breeds More Good Habits
The discipline of making the list daily has morphed into other daily habits that I have piggybacked onto writing the gratitude list. For example, following writing the gratitude list, I spend time in meditation.
Stimulates Positive Action
When I go back and read the gratitude lists for the month I have just finished, it usually brings into focus both the good things that have happened to me over the month as well as the things I have accomplished in that time period. It may also stimulate me to create new goals for the current or upcoming month. Seeing what is positive and has been accomplished is encouraging and can boost continued action. There is a desire to add more things to the gratitude list as opposed to lamenting about what I don’t have.
These are just a few of the great effects that come from writing out a daily gratitude list. Try it out and adjust it fit your schedule. You may decide to write more or less than 10 items which is perfectly fine, just so you try it and stick to it.