3 Ways You Can Practice Gratitude Today
Gratitude is one of my favorite side-effects of meditation: getting quiet with yourself regularly creates fertile ground for growing a deep appreciation for life. But you can also cultivate gratitude without sitting on the cushion. Here are a handful of simple gratitude practices you can do during your day, whether or not you have a meditation practice.
#1: Keep a Gratitude Journal
When you take the time at the end of the day to appreciate what happened - the big things and the little things - you begin to shift your perspective. Rather than dwelling on everything that went wrong or frustrated you, which sends you deeper into anger and despair, you dwell on what went right or delighted you, which sends you deeper into joy and peace. That's why keeping a gratitude journal is one of the most popular practices out there for boosting your sense of well-being.
There are lots of ways to keep gratitude journals; you can make the process as simple or as elaborate as appeals to you. My favorite is to write down three things I'm grateful for, right before I go to bed. During the year I was pregnant with my second son, I did this every night. In the midst of all the chaos, emotions, and physical changes that go along with being pregnant and mothering a toddler at the same time, doing this helped me remember to notice all of the amazing things that were happening. My only rule: I couldn't put the pen down until I'd written down three things.
They could be as small as, "I caught the train I needed to so I could get home for dinner! My train was just pulling in when I got to the platform - it was running late, too!"
They could be as big as, "The latest test results came back - all signs point towards a healthy baby. I feel so relieved!"
All that mattered was that I genuinely felt glad about each of the three things.
#2: Fall Asleep in Gratitude
A variation on the gratitude journal is to fill your mind with grateful thoughts as you drift off to sleep. Rather than writing anything down before bed, you turn out the light, get comfortable and cozy, and then ask yourself, "What am I grateful for?"
As you begin to list all the things in your life that you feel grateful for - the incidents that day, the people you love, the roof over your head, the delicious dinner you ate - you let go of the anxious thoughts and planning that often preoccupy us as we lie in bed, waiting to fall asleep.
I'm the first to admit that I automatically begin running through tomorrow morning's logistics when I close my eyes at night. As soon as I realize I'm trapped in planning mode, I take a few breaths, feel the coziness of being under the covers, and ask myself that question, "What am I grateful for?" I can feel my muscles relax as gratitude and love take the place of anxiety and stress, and before I've listed more than a handful of things, I've fallen asleep.
#3: Grateful Moments
This is a variation on one of my favorite mindfulness practices, "mindful moments." Pick a cue that happens at least a few times during your day - the sound of a notification on your phone, stopping at a red light, or drinking a glass of water, for example. Whenever that cue happens, take a breath, and ask yourself, "What has happened today that I'm grateful for?" or "What am I grateful for?"
Pausing to notice what you're grateful for at random moments shifts your perspective. You start looking for things to be grateful for throughout your day. As I love to remind my students in class, whatever we look for, we see more of. Wouldn't you rather see more to feel grateful for, than more to be angry or frustrated about? I would!
How do you practice gratitude in your day? Share your ideas in the comments below!