We live in a world where the pursuit of more, different, and better has become a number one priority. It’s all too easy to get caught up in that mindset, lose focus, and quickly become dissatisfied with our lot in life. I’ve certainly been there and done that… but I am also learning that practicing gratitude is the first step toward restoring balance, contentment, and joy to my life.
A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. – Cicero
Thanksgiving Day – in addition to the consumption of a delicious turkey dinner, time with family and friends, and perhaps the playing and/or viewing of sports, of course – is an opportunity when many of us take time to acknowledge those things in our lives for which we are grateful. But we know that thankfulness shouldn’t be limited to just that one day out of 365!
So how do you cultivate a spirit of gratitude that becomes a part of who you are throughout the whole year?
1. Count your blessings.
This might seem like an obvious first step, but think about it for a moment.
How often do we take what we might think of as the “little things” for granted – a comfortable bed, perhaps, or access to fresh and clean water, plenty of food, and a warm and dry home – and forget just how very, very fortunate and blessed we are to have them?
How often does an attitude of entitlement creep in, convincing us that these things are somehow our due?
I know that I have at times been guilty as charged.
Cultivate a spirit of gratitude… by counting all of your blessings, whatever they include.
2. Practice gratitude in difficult times.
I have found that it can be a challenge to practice gratitude when I’m in the midst of an undesirable or unsatisfying situation, but this is perhaps the most important time in which to do so.
One example that always comes back to me is from a friend who, when going through a particularly difficult time financially and struggling to pay her utility bills, still cultivated a spirit of gratitude by reminding herself what those bills represented – warmth, light, contact with the outside world – and being thankful for having access to each of those things. When I heard her story it really resonated with me, and I try to remember this example when I’m struggling to live in a spirit of gratitude.
Cultivate a spirit of gratitude… by looking for the silver lining, a different viewpoint, the flip side of the coin.
3. Be intentional – write it down!
Whether it’s done on paper or a computer screen, a transformation takes place when thoughts, feelings, and ideas are made concrete by being translated into words.
As part of counting your blessings and practicing gratitude in difficult times, find a way to put your thoughts into words by whatever means suits you best. You don’t have to be a writer, and it doesn’t have to be fancy or eloquent – a simple bulleted list is just fine. You might:
- Write them down in your datebook or calendar at the end of each day.
- Start a gratitude journal.
- Write a poem.
- Send them in a letter to a friend.
- Turn them into a blog post.
Cultivate a spirit of gratitude… by being intentional about putting your thoughts into writing.
4. Make practicing gratitude a habit.
Our everyday lives are peppered with habits that are part of our daily routine and have become a natural extension of who we are and how we choose to live our lives.
Gratitude needs to become one of those habits.
A few weeks ago I started a weekly tradition: every Sunday I would take some time to put item 3 into practice – write down a list of things for which I was grateful at that moment in time – then I would turn my list into a blog post and invite others to share their own gratitude lists, either as a comment or a link to a post. Very shortly after starting this practice of intentionally focusing on gratitude at a specific time each week, I noticed the attitude starting to spill over into the rest of the week. The more I practiced gratitude, the more I found it becoming a habit, with grateful thoughts naturally coming to mind in the midst of all sorts of situations, good and bad.
Cultivate a spirit of gratitude… by making it a habit.
5. Share with others.
Joy has a way of spreading when, as a natural extension of acknowledging and expressing gratitude for our blessings, we take things another step and extend part of those blessings to others.
- Grateful for being in a wonderful mood? Share it by spreading smiles and cheerfulness.
- Grateful for a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator? Share it by inviting someone over for a meal.
- Grateful for a special person in your life? Share it by letting them know how you feel.
- Grateful for your morning coffee? Share it by buying one for the next person in line.
Cultivate a spirit of gratitude… by sharing your blessings with others.
How do you cultivate a spirit of gratitude in your life?