What a year it’s been. Thankfully, for most Americans, the specter of the COVID-19 crisis is in the review mirror as more people become vaccinated and the world opens back up. While this is a time of celebration and re-connection for many, others feel anxious about the resumption of social activities, in grief over the losses of the last 15 months, or unsure about the future. No matter where you stand on the spectrum, we’d postulate that there is nothing better than finding some gratitude to boost your mood and give you perspective.
It’s been well documented by researchers and psychologists just how downright powerful gratitude can be for improving your level of satisfaction with life. More than just a perspective, practicing gratitude is linked to improved physical health and mental well-being. It’s associated with better sleep, more energy, less depression, and possibly even a lower risk of heart disease.
So how do you turn on the tap to get more of this feel-good energy in your life?
Here are a few ideas to get you going:
If you are struggling to find something to feel grateful for, consider the following:
- What has improved about your life over the past year?
- What is one kind or thoughtful thing someone did for you recently?
- Were most of your basic needs met today?
- Can you recall a recent experience of feeling cared for?
- What simple pleasures did you enjoy—or can you enjoy—today?
- What’s one thing you experienced recently that made you feel a sense of wonder or awe?
- Have you noticed something beautiful in nature lately?
- Can you recall a recent situation that turned out much better than you thought it would?
- What’s something you witnessed recently that reminded you about the goodness of life?
- Has anyone positively impacted your life lately?
- Does your physical health allow you do to things like walk, run or play?
- What pleasant everyday experience do you take for granted?
- How have you made personal or professional progress lately?
When we really begin to look, we find that there are opportunities for gratitude everywhere. In this way, we can cultivate a mindset of appreciation, rather than one of fear, anxiety, or scarcity. There are countless ways in which our lives are rich, deep, and good, even in times of struggle. Tuning in to what is going right in our worlds helps us naturally shift away from the endless focus on what’s imperfect. It gives us the gift of the present moment. Gratitude is about much more than the occasional “thank you.” Instead, the practice of giving thanks somehow makes our lives more satisfying.
How to Keep your Gratitude Practice Fresh
If you’ve been at the gratitude game for a while and it has gotten stale, there are ways to make your practice fresh and alive again. While you might always be thankful for your family, writing, “I’m grateful for my family” over and over won’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. Try being more specific, like: “Thankful that my partner brought me soup when he knew I was sick.”
Another useful trick is to try applying gratitude to difficult situations in your life. If you’ve been feeling resentful about your job recently, making work-specific gratitude lists for a few weeks can be a powerful way to get a new outlook. List five or ten things each day that are good about your job. Even if you repeat yourself day after day (“the free coffee”) or have to really dig, you are re-training your brain to look for opportunities to appreciate a situation.
Gratitude in Action
But our practice shouldn’t stop with an acknowledgment of things we are thankful for. More than just a pleasant feeling, gratitude is an action. The more we practice demonstrating gratitude, the more we feel it. Just like they say in many 12-step groups, “right feeling follows right action.” How do you demonstrate gratitude to the people, places, experiences, and things that you listed above? If you’re grateful for the friendly barista who makes your morning coffee, could you demonstrate gratitude by learning her name? Leaving a tip?
Good luck out there! We here at SLO Recovery are grateful for you!