Gratitude, Your Way
One morning last week, my daughter’s dog skidded into the house with muddy paws. I spilled coffee on my favorite blouse. Then a power surge interrupted an important video conference. Two hours in, I knew it was going to be one of those days.
Just as I felt my face tighten in frustration, my gaze landed on a framed photo on my desk. It was a picture of my children, taken on one of our favorite family vacations.
My mind instantly shifted from logging complaints to counting blessings. Blessings that are easy to take for granted or forget in the busyness of life. Like a ticker tape, they ran through my mind: I’m so thankful for my family … that we have a roof over our heads … food on our table … and power to surge. And yes, thankful for that lovable, adorable dog who is occasionally a pain in the rear when visiting.
Before I knew it, gratitude shifted my entire attitude — and the direction of my day.
Power Challenge 1: Find gratitude in small or unexpected places
You can probably recall a moment in your life where gratitude just flowed through your veins. The situation was so all-encompassing that you couldn’t not feel gratitude. Like when a complete stranger helped you when your car wouldn’t start. When you were outside the grocery store in a torrential rainstorm.
But really, isn’t life mostly made up of mundane moments? In those moments gratitude doesn’t always come so easily. It won’t find you. That means you have to know how (and where) to look for it.
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness —it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” — Brené Brown
Sometimes gratitude will be in small or unexpected places. Perhaps you’ll find it looking at a special photograph, as I did that morning. Maybe you’ll experience gratitude for nature as you stare up at the branches of a hundred-year-old tree. Or you might feel it when you see a small act of kindness reported on the evening news.
Make a daily practice of finding the small things that are going right for you, the small things that you appreciate. Take a moment and acknowledge your gratitude for them.
Power Challenge 2: Use the language of gratitude
Have you ever noticed that a “thank you” is almost always punctuated by a smile? Gratitude feels good.
The more often you say thank you — whether in your mind or out loud — the more you practice gratitude. So, thank the other driver who waves you through the intersection. Thank the stocker in the grocery aisle who’s loading up the shelves. Thank your neighbor for blowing your leaves off your driveway.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” — William Arthur Ward
Here’s something else to try. The next time you’re inclined to complain about what you “have” to do, substitute “I have to” with “I get to.” See if that changes your tune, encouraging you to feel more grateful and less burdened. For example:
- I have to drive carpool >> I get to drive carpool >> I’m grateful for my kids and for the opportunity to hear their conversations when they think I’m not listening!
- I have to finish this client proposal >> I get to finish this client proposal >> I’m grateful for the work I’m able to do and for the clients I have the chance to help.
- I have to exercise >> I get to exercise >> I’m grateful that my body allows me to jog, stretch, lift weights or move to music.
When you tweak just one word, you can shift your whole attitude — and energy.
Power Challenge 3: Try a bit of acceptance
When bad things happen, life can feel more like a bed of thorns than a bed of roses. In those moments, gratitude may be furthest thing from your mind.
Have you ever found yourself venting about something, only to have friends or family try to steer you into gratitude instead? Of course, they mean well. But can— or should — you always force yourself to feel gratitude? Absolutely not.
Forced positivity and manufactured gratitude are inauthentic. And dismissive.
You’re entitled to your emotions. All of them. (That said, you’re not entitled to continually dump onto others, but that’s a topic for another day.) Not all problems can be “fixed” by looking for the silver lining. There may not be one. And even if there is, that doesn’t negate your experience of disappointment, pain or challenge.
Sometimes the best you can do is to practice a bit of acceptance around whatever is happening. Vent. Cry. Pound a pillow. Acknowledge your difficult feelings and remember that they too shall pass. It may not be until after the storm that opportunities for gratitude emerge … or not.
In fact, gratitude isn’t guaranteed, even in situations where it appears warranted to others. For example, some people feel awkward when receiving gifts, favors or acts of kindness because they assume an obligation to reciprocate.
That can feel like pressure! Especially if you consider yourself more of a “giver” than a “taker.”
When this happens, obligation and gratitude can be at odds. In this dilemma, see if you can accept what you’re being given — and feel good about it — without also feeling like you owe the other person anything in return.
Practicing gracious acceptance cultivates gratitude.
Gratitude Is a Practice
Keeping a gratitude journal can be a great way to help you discover — or remember — all the things for which you feel grateful. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can keep a list on your phone if that’s more your style.
If you struggle with gratitude because it just doesn’t come naturally, you might have to work a little harder at it — at least at first. Take a step back. You don’t have to focus on predictable categories like family, health, job or home. Surely there is something — or someone — you’re thankful for. A teacher or mentor? The beach? Some pleasing holiday decorations?
Notice any warmth you feel as you record them in your journal or on your list. That’s gratitude!
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