“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -Melody Beattie
It’s a word that makes the round each November and highlights the heartfelt appreciation of the holidays. Thanksgiving is on its way and the holiday season happily focuses our minds and hearts on those we love. There are challenges and posts focusing on what we’re grateful for and a new found desire to express it to each other. It’s amazing!
But it can also be fleeting unless we understand fully what it is and how it can truly transform our lives. Gratitude offers many gifts and opportunities, which I’ve summed up in three categories – healing, connection, and transformation.
Healing – Gratitude creates an environment that allows us to forgive and to release pain. Studies show that people who are grateful feel fewer aches and pains. Being grateful even improves sleep.
Connection – Gratitude brings us together in common and mutual appreciation. Gratitude enhances empathy and creates opportunity for new relationships – personal and professional.
Transformation – Gratitude re-frames how we see the world, transforming who we are and how we live. Feeling grateful reduces toxic emotions, improves self-esteem, and increases mental strength.
5 Gratitude Myths
The challenge with practicing gratitude frequently comes from a misunderstanding of what it is and what practicing it might mean. These are five myths that limit would-be practitioners:
Myth1: It’s a Feeling. It’s often assumed that gratitude is a “feeling”. What if life is a struggle? What if you are not feeling good? Thankfully, gratitude is not about that! It’s an intention. A choice. An awareness. You can be devastated and can still be grateful. There is good in everything, though it can be hard to see sometimes. If you are struggling, gratitude can help you heal and recover faster.
Myth 2: Only Focused on Good. You may worry that gratitude is only focused on the good, which isn’t realistic. True, gratitude is about finding the good, but not solely focusing on it to the point where hardships are ignored. Actually, gratitude is much more effective within the context of difficult times.
Myth 3: Makes You Complacent. Feeling gratitude for what you have doesn’t mean you’ll lose your drive or stop having goals. Conversely, it’s an effective goal-setting companion. Gratitude helps you grow more of what you love and appreciate.
Myth 4: Is Religious. Gratitude doesn’t need religion or spirituality. There are many who practice gratitude and who are religious, but its connection to a deity or greater power is a personal choice. Gratitude is a singular focus of appreciation from within. It’s up to you to determine the context within which you perceive it.
Myth 5: Requires Humility. You don’t necessarily need to be self-effacing when grateful, though you may find it wonderfully humbling in some cases. Gratitude may lovingly remind you of the gifts you receive in your life and the help you have been given, but it is not exclusive of pride.
Once you understand what gratitude ISN’T you can appreciate it for what it is: a personal intention with the potential to change your perspective.
If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!
Anyone a fan of the movie “A League of Their Own”? Tom Hanks has the best quote as coach Jimmy Dugan: “Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. Hard is what makes it great.” Getting real here for a moment, let’s not pretend gratitude is easy. But don’t worry, it’s not “women’s baseball” hard either!The challenge may be in the understanding of the concept versus the practice.
Gratitude — it sounds so lovely and positive. And while it is, it also requires serious effort in many ways. It takes discipline and focus. It’s very much like building a muscle. I love the article “Why Gratitude Isn’t for Wimps”, which keys in on the practice it takes and also notes the study-proven effects of this effort.
It takes consistency and a desire to include it in your life. But the good news is, gratitude will reward you beyond your effort once you get in the habit. As a matter of fact, you will find that the more you practice it, the easier it will be to continue.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” Zig Ziglar
How To Practice Gratitude
You know the answer to the question “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice, practice. Ha! It’s the same with gratitude.
There are as many ways to practice gratitude as there are reasons to be grateful. For some, the concept can be overwhelming, especially when life is challenging. But, with a little guidance it can be one of the easiest things to include in your life and it offers one of the greatest returns for your time.
Some of my favorite ways to prompt the practice of gratitude include: taking a walk and observing the world or sitting in silence and using the body scan technique (observing during meditation). I also love to free associate experiences and stories and to have conversations with others to inspire my gratitude.
The medium can vary – thinking, writing, and speaking all work. It depends on what works for you. The fact is, you don’t need Pinterest to make this happen. The practice can be as simple as you need it to be, as long as it’s consistent.
You can think quiet thoughts to yourself or you can share ideas with a friend or loved one. Many enjoy gratitude journaling or adding gratitude notes within a daily journal. Gratitude jars are another fan fave. It’s a satisfying practice to not only write down moments of gratitude on slips of paper, but to keep them to read later. You get to relive those moments, which increases your experience all the more. You can also use a Vision Board to include your gratitude, which helps you visualize it every time you look at it. It is static, in this case, but it will undoubtedly inspire more ideas.
“Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe.” -Wayne Dyer
P.S. During November 2017, I am hosting a free gratitude series (one of what will likely be the first of many) to help others find the right gratitude ritual for them. If you’re reading this during the month, please join us.
You can always catch the replays and join in the Facebook community. If you see this months from now, be sure to subscribe below for updates and message me. It’s never “too late” to start including gratitude in your life and the more you do, the more it will give to you in return!