I’ve always felt like the key to a happy and fulfilled life comes down to one’s personal experience with gratitude. But it’s not that simple. I think of gratitude as a routine practice versus a general feeling. Gratitude is a muscle, something that you need to exercise in order to have it reach its full potential.
Some people choose to victimize themselves. They’re the ones that are convinced that they’re getting shafted and can always point out the negative and find something to complain about. Things are always worse or harder for them, and they’ll tell you why if you offer an empathetic ear. You know who I’m talking about, right? This post is not for those people.
This post is for the people who hear about something unfortunate happening to someone else and feel truly grateful for their life in that moment. They’re the ones who post genuine heartfelt Facebook proclamations on Thanksgiving, listing out all the things that contribute to making their life a blessing. They generally feel like their life is good. They’re people who have the “gratitude attitude” but probably aren’t flexing the muscle often enough to use it to its full potential and live a truly fulfilled and meaningful life. Let me explain.
When you enter a room, does your eye scan the room to find the thing that’s wrong with the room (an unmade bed, a sink full of dishes)? Are you distracted by or focused on what’s “wrong”? Or are you able to feel grateful for what is there that is right? When your partner is annoying you, can you easily tap into your feelings of love and compassion for that person, the feeling that reminds you of when you first fell in love with that person and why? It isn’t realistic to be able to do that at all times, but entering conflict from a doorway of gratitude and flexing the muscle, or practicing gratitude, leads to an inner peace and a sense of true presence.
Most of us fall into the category of feeling grateful in general, but having a hard time tapping into the feeling when faced with any conflict or adversity. That’s passive gratitude. It’s good, but there’s so much further you can take it.
Life has a way of allowing us to focus on negative energies. We have a choice. When you consciously practice active gratitude you’re opening up a world of peace, with far less anxiety, judgment, and guilt.
Here are three things I do to practice daily gratitude.
1. Assess to-do lists while giving thanks.
I have a constant list going of groceries we need, emails to send, errands to run, calls to make, and bills to pay. What I like to do is take a look at my list and actively point out three things that I’m grateful for with each item.
I’m listing some examples of random items that may be on any given list and I’m going to show you what I mentally do.
Buy apples– I’m grateful that I have the foresight to eat healthily, that I have the money to purchase apples, that apples are easily transportable in my purse so that I can always have snack on hand.
Pay babysitter- I’m grateful to have hired a babysitter who my children look forward to seeing, so that I can have some freedom and independence, which makes me a better mom, that our babysitter often shows up with baking ingredients or stickers or an idea of something that will keep the boys creatively engaged.
Birthday gift that needs to be purchased– I’m grateful for having this person in my life, that I get to look forward to spending his birthday with him, that I have some great ideas of what to buy for him that he’ll love. This helps me to look forward to my to-do’s instead of consider them a burden as well as keep my anxiety about all the things that need to be done in check.
2. Recognize stress and transform it.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed and find myself getting frustrated with my kids or others in my life that I love, I know I need to take a quick moment to re-calibrate. I generally take this moment when I find myself complaining to someone about something that’s going on. Example: I’ll be on the phone with my mom and I’ll tell her how poorly the kids slept, how Mike is working late tonight so I have to do the dreaded bedtime routines alone, and how our whole day is thrown off because Logan’s nap is going to be off-schedule. Whenever I get that nagging feeling deep down that I’m being too “complainy”, I know I need to take a gratitude break.
Deep breath. Of all the things that could be wrong with my kids (knock wood), the fact that they sleep pretty shittily is a small thing. An early nap for Lo means that we can do something fun with the early afternoon. Mike might be working late, but maybe I’ll be able to enjoy a glass of wine and watch a TV show that he wouldn’t like or get into a good book once the kids go down.
Finding something positive about whatever feels negative is actually much easier than you think and really helps to shift my perspective.
3. Transform judgement of others into active gratitude.
If I’m feeling judgy, and I allow it to consume me, I am belittling myself in the process. When I realize that I’m judging someone and spending my energy in that space, I’ll try to shift my perspective and allow myself to feel grateful that I’m not facing their challenges or even just feeling the need to behave a certain way. This one takes practice and it’s the one I find to be the most difficult to manifest. But if I can muster up any gratitude at all when faced with someone who’s really behaving poorly, I consider it a win.
Living a life of gratitude unlocks opportunity. Opportunity to be present, to be giving, and to experience less stress and turmoil. It helps you focus on what really matters and keep your energies flowing towards those things. How do you practice gratitude? Even if you need to start small, try incorporating some daily rituals that allow you to recognize and identify your blessings.