Practice Gratitude Daily
It sounds almost platitudinous to say that we should all be more grateful, yet the daily practice of gratitude is more than an empty cliché. Being thankful, as an active state of mind, can have far-flung effects on our mental health, all of them positive. When we choose gratitude instead of, or even alongside despair, it can help us to mitigate anxiety, stress, and internalized negativity; it allows us to be more open to the good things in this world. It helps us survive. For those in recovery, it can be an invaluable tool.
Gratitude can light the way
While it may seem strange or even avoidant to practice gratitude in the midst of hardship, it’s actually the best option we have for finding equanimity, if not radiant joy. I don’t think we practice gratitude in spite of hard times but because of them. In the light, when things seem to be going well for us and our loved ones, who among us actually pause to be grateful for the small things? We may even feel entitled to them. On the other hand, when things go dark, we don’t take those [suddenly] not-so-small things (including relationships) for granted. Imagine gratitude as the smallest flicker of a candle flame. Most of us tend not to notice such a small flicker in the light of day. But this same light means everything for the person stumbling through darker times. Practice gratitude daily and appreciate this flame, no matter how large or small, and it will never go out. Who knows? Your gratitude may be providing light for someone else without your even realizing it.
Practicing gratitude can be surprisingly easy. As with most things, it gets even easier if you actually practice! Applying gratitude to our day-to-day living is where things get a little more challenging. It takes discipline to do a practice, the rewards of which are often subtle. But gratitude is an active mindset and attitude that celebrates all that you have without lingering on what you lack. It’s a perspective that can transform some unpleasant situations or disappointments into things that have value.
How to make Gratitude a daily practice
We could all stand to work on our gratitude skills. Below are some practical ways to do exactly that, though we invite you to brainstorm some strategies of your own.
- One tried and true method for active gratitude is to keep a journal, writing in it each day to list some things you are thankful for. This works well for many people, but we will also suggest a twist on this classic approach. Try keeping a gratitude calendar, instead; write down one thing you are thankful for every day, and when the new year starts, go back to the beginning of your calendar and add new entries for each day. Over time you will create a layered timeline of your daily gratitude practice.
- Use important days—anniversaries, birthdays, etc.— as key opportunities to meditate on the things you are thankful for. Take some time on these milestones to reflect on the previous year, and perhaps write a list of things you are thankful for. Also, try writing out predictions for the good things that will come in the next year.
- You are probably familiar with the practice of saying grace at mealtimes. A different approach to this—and one that is perfectly welcoming even to the non-religious—is to go around the table and offer something you are thankful for at each meal. Get your family members and your friends—whoever you share the table with—involved in this process.
- Use difficulties and hardships as opportunities for gratitude. Instead of beating yourself up over mistakes, you have made, encourage yourself to think instead about lessons you have learned, or about those “blessings in disguise” that you might experience through troubled times.
- Look for opportunities to say thank you to actual people in your life—and they don’t necessarily have to be people you know well. Say thank you to the people who serve you, the people who often blend into the background of your day. Offer thanks to your Uber driver, to the barista who makes your coffee, to the people who hold doors open for you… anyone and everyone you have the opportunity to thank, do!
- Another option is to thank the people who have been influential in your past—former teachers, coaches, bosses, mentors, co-workers, or friends. Reconnect with them by writing them a letter and simply expressing the gratitude you have for them, and for their influence in your life.
There are always things to be thankful for and always opportunities to express gratitude. Find them, seize them, and watch how they change your heart, your mind, and your life. Make gratitude the backbone of your recovery, this and every month.