Gratitude is a popular subject these days among psychologists, spiritual groups, and average individuals looking for more happiness in their lives. And it’s no wonder: people who feel more appreciative tend to be more satisfied in their careers, relationships, and personal lives. Actively feeling thankful often creates a ripple effect, where the initial thought of gratitude brings out more positive feelings, like joy, comfort, and calmness. But in today’s world, it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of our surroundings, whether we’re stressed out from work or frustrated with the political landscape or just having a hard time recognizing the good through all of the bad we’re seeing. That’s understandable. If you’re looking for a more positive outlook, though, training yourself to feel more grateful more often is a great place to start.
Be more mindful.
So much of learning to feel more grateful is linked to being more mindful. After all, it can be difficult to feel gratitude if you’re not paying attention to your life to see the good things in it. Start your day by taking a minute to be aware of your surroundings, your feelings, and your first thoughts. As you go through your day, repeat the exercise whenever you think of it. Even better, have a reminder that gets you to stop for a minute a few times throughout the day. It can be an alarm you set on your phone or a note on your desk that tells you to notice the present moment, or even an object—like a piece of jewellery—that you train your brain to associate with the exercise so you’re reminded to take a minute to reflect whenever you see it. Find three things you’re thankful for each time you do this short mindfulness exercise and take the opportunity to really feel your appreciation. With time, this will become habit and you’ll find yourself doing it without the reminders.
Surround yourself with reminders.
Surrounding yourself with inspirational quotes directly relating to gratitude is a great way to help you get into that habit. You’ve probably seen them floating around the internet or hanging on a bulletin board in an office or classroom. Usually the image is something serene, either a soothing abstract or a nature photograph, and there’s a simple phrase printed on it, like “It is not happy people who are thankful; It is thankful people that are happy.” These kinds of quotes serve as instant reminders to get into an attitude of gratitude. Whenever you see one, think of a few things that you’re thankful for and linger in that feeling for a few moments. The easiest way to expose yourself to inspirational quotes is to follow a page on Facebook or an account on Instagram that is dedicated to posting them—and there are plenty to choose from. That way, when you go onto social media, images pop up in your feed without you having to chase after them. You’ll find the reminders useful if you still need prompts to get you thinking about what you’ve got to be thankful for, and they’re still uplifting even if you don’t.
Work on changing your focus.
If you’re looking to be more grateful in your day-to-day life, it’s probably because you’re not very grateful now. You might be stuck in a pattern of negativity and want to change that. Mindfulness is helpful in this instance too, but instead of being aware of your surroundings to find things you appreciate, focus on being aware of your thoughts so you can change them. Make the decision to pay attention to the way you think and when you recognize that you’re in a train of negative thinking, catch yourself. Now, it’s really hard to not think about something. If you decide to not think about something, there’s a good chance it’s exactly what you’re going to think about. So instead, replace your thoughts so your focus is on what you’re grateful for instead of what you’re unhappy about. You may not be good at catching your thoughts in the beginning and that’s okay. Once you make the decision to pay more attention to how you think, you’ll be surprised how quickly you develop an awareness of your thoughts with just a little practice. Then you can shift your focus and make the choice to find a few things that you’re grateful for, even in situations that you’re not especially thrilled about.
Take some time to identify the good things.
Feeling gratitude is typically just a matter of taking time to recognize some of the good things you have in your life. Stress comes from many sources: an unsteady relationship, an ornery boss, a cat that keeps peeing where she shouldn’t… problems big and small can take over your life if you let them and cause you to overlook the things you’re lucky to have. As problems come up, it can be necessary to pay attention to them so you can work through them, but if you spend all your time stuck on them, it’ll take a toll on you. So, despite what may be happening around you, take a break from thinking about what’s going wrong and actively think about what’s going right. Think about something good that happened to you recently, someone that you love, or something you’re looking forward to. Just taking a couple of minutes to count your blessings will bring out feelings of appreciation and lift your mood.
Keep a gratitude journal.
For those who like more structured exercises, a gratitude journal is a great option to consider. Keep a notebook, a note in an app, or a word document just for this purpose. Each day, set aside a few minutes to spend with your gratitude journal and write down three to five things that you’re thankful for. It can be things that are constant in your life, people you care about, an opportunity you’re excited for, or anything else you’re happy about. Whatever comes to mind, write it in your book. Then, as with the other exercises, spend a minute focusing on feeling thankful for those things. The difference with this exercise compared to others mentioned here is that most of the effort seems focused in one sitting instead of coming up periodically throughout the day, but that’s not exactly accurate. Yes, the journaling happens just once during the day, but when you know that you’ll be writing about what you’re grateful for later, you’ll start thinking about things you can write about as you go about your day and that will have you feeling gratitude frequently.
Be more conscious when you say “thank you.”
Another thing to think about is how often you say “thank you.” Even if you say “thanks” often, it might be more of an impulse and not because you’re actually feeling thankful. Try to be more conscious of when you say thank you, then consider what it is you’re thankful for and really feel thankful for it. For example, if you just bought a coffee and you’ve thanked the barista, what are you thankful for? There are so many possibilities: you could be thankful for the coffee, for the person who made it for you, for how close the coffee shop is to your home, or for the fact that you can afford to buy that coffee. Also consider how often you say “sorry” and see if there are times when you can replace it or follow it with a statement of thanks.. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch and you’re late, you’ll probably apologise for it. But you can also throw in a “thanks for waiting for me” too. Saying that you’re thankful more consciously can help you to feel truly grateful.
Know that your situation could be worse.
Being more grateful is very much about being more positive, but sometimes thinking about negative things can help you feel appreciative. In times when you feel overwhelmed but your problems, it can be tough to think of the good things you’ve got. When that happens, think about other hard times you’ve had instead. Think of times that have been worse for you and be grateful that you’re not in those situations anymore. Or, if it feels like you’re in the worst place you’ve ever been, you can also think of stories you read or heard about in the news that were about other people’s circumstances and be thankful that you’re not going through what they’re dealing with. It’s not the best way to feel more gratitude on a regular basis since the focus is fairly negative and switching to a more positive mindset is preferable, but it’s a way to work toward it when you’re in a tough spot.
Feeling gratitude is easy, but making that feeling a bigger part of your life can take some effort. But it’s just like forming any other habit—as you practice it and do it more and more, it becomes easier and even natural for you to recognize the good things in your world and to feel grateful for them. It’s as simple as reminding yourself to look for the good, and there is something good in every situation, even if it’s hard to see at first.