A few years ago I made a conscious decision at the beginning of a new year to focus on the positive. No matter life’s circumstances, I would choose to look at the glass as full and flowing over – even if to others it appeared to be completely bone dry. This was my new year’s “resolution” – my outlook on the year. January 1st I was ready and willing.
January 2nd my youngest uncle passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. Three weeks later I found out I was pregnant and had a miscarriage the very next week. The first month of that year was absolutely horrible but I was constantly reminded of my resolve to remain positive.
Yes, there were days that the tears came – in multitudes. I allowed them. I accepted they were a part of the grieving process. However, each day I listed 5 things I was grateful for without fail. I recently read through my gratitude journal for those months and, of course, the tears began to flow. Not out of sadness or regret but of joy. Even in my seemingly darkest hours there was still so much I had to be thankful for.
Throughout the years I’ve realized that daily gratitude helps me shift my attention to the positive, improve my perspective, and appreciate what is working well in my life. This, in turn, increases my energy and my happiness. Not a bad outcome for an investment of five minutes or less a day!
Could Daily Gratitude Help You?
It’s easy to drift into focusing on the negative, on problems, and on what isn’t working in your life. But what you focus on expands. So focusing on the negative and on problems gets you more of that, not the enjoyment and fulfillment in life you long for.
Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at University of California, Davis, says gratitude is “an attitude we can choose that makes life better for ourselves and for other people. I think about it as the best approach to life. . .When things go well gratitude enables us to savor things going well. When things go poorly gratitude enables us to get over those situations and realize they are temporary.”
- Psychologists, spiritual teachers, writers, and researchers say that gratitude can:
- Increase your energy and optimism
- Shift your focus to what has gone well or delighted you
- Help you not take things for granted
- Make you more resilient to life’s hassles and stress
- Encourage your satisfaction with life
- Increase your compassion
- Enrich your experience of life
- Increase your happiness and well being
- Improve your health
Who doesn’t want some or all of this?
A Practice in Daily Gratitude
So how do you incorporate more gratitude into your life? I recommend a daily practice of some kind. For instance, you could:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Each night write five things for which you are grateful.
- Before you go to bed, give thanks for one thing for which you’ve never before been consciously grateful.
Making the practice a part of your daily routine will regularly focus your attention on gratitude. Knowing you’ll be doing this each evening will raise your awareness and attention throughout the day. “Oh, I need to remember that tonight.” “What am I going to be grateful for this evening?”
Grateful for What?
In my initial gratitude practice, each night as I brushed my teeth (I couldn’t miss the opportunity to double task!) I’d think of five things for which I was grateful for. The very last thing I did each night was write those things down and reflect on them.
I’d be lying if I said it was easy every night. When I’m feeling low, it’s tough to think of anything for which I truly feel grateful. Still I persist and eventually come up with five things. Many nights I have so much I feel grateful for that I can’t write fast enough.
Brother David Steindl-Rast says “We go through life in a daze. A power failure makes us aware of what a gift electricity is, a sprained ankle lets us appreciate walking as a gift, a sleepless night, sleep. How much we are missing in life by noticing gifts only when we are suddenly deprived of them!”
What you are grateful for will differ from me. The gifts and the abundance in each of our lives are so vast that the possibilities are limitless.
To begin playing with the practice of gratitude, here are two suggestions:
1) Start with a big infusion of gratitude. Take 5 or 10 or even 30 minutes right now. Write as many things as you can think of for which you are grateful. Notice how writing this list changes your energy.
2) Choose a daily practice and play with it for two weeks. Notice how this practice affects you. See if this is a practice you’d like to continue or if you’d like to try another one.
Practice gratitude and see how it changes your life.