Research shows that adopting a gratitude practice can benefit your wellness, through boosting your mental health and improving your interactions with others.
However, practicing gratitude is not simply looking for a silver lining in everything, or even worse, pretending that everything in life is perfect and ignoring things that are negative or difficult.
Here are four examples of ways to practice gratitude to get the most out of its positive effects.
1. Make a habit of using your senses
Take 5-10 minutes every day to intentionally review the sensory information you are receiving in the present moment. In other words, reflect on any sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile feelings you may be experiencing.
Go through the different types of sensory information one by one — first taking time to notice any sounds that you hear, then any sights that you see, and so on. Pay particular attention to how the feelings your senses evoke connect to the idea of gratitude. The familiar hum of your refrigerator may remind you of feeling grateful for a comfortable, cozy home. The view of rain clouds outside your window could inspire gratitude for nature and the changing seasons.
Anchor this time of gratitude to part of your daily routine — for example, right before your morning run, or between taking a shower and getting ready for bed. Before long, you’ll notice this gratitude practice bringing an increased feeling of being centered and content to this portion of your day.
2. Use a gratitude jar
The gratitude jar exercise just requires a few minutes every day and a Mason jar or a similar receptacle. I find this exercise easiest to do in the late afternoon or evening, since it involves reflecting on your day.
Spend some time thinking about three events or experiences that happened over the course of your day that were positive or that you really appreciate. It could be a random act of kindness, like when a stranger gives you her seat on the subway, or something more substantial, like having a conversation with a friend that was difficult, but also meaningful and important.
Write each of these three events on post its or index cards and collect them in your gratitude jar. Similar to the exercise of using your senses, this will build your ability to practice gratitude each day. To enhance the experience further, set aside some extra time once a month to empty the jar and start afresh. Before discarding your notes, read over them and reflect on the gratitude you’ve experienced over that course of time.
3. Walking mindfully
A walking mindfulness practice is a good skill to have in your back pocket, as it’s a way to practice some extra gratitude at any time you feel you really need it.
On those rough days, walk around outside your office, or through a park or favorite outdoor space, and take special notice of your body and your surroundings. What is your body temperature? How do your muscles feel? What is your breathing like and your heartbeat? What is the atmosphere outdoors today? Can you hear traffic, children playing, or music? Do you smell any unusual scents or notice any colors you usually don’t pay attention to?
As you walk and contemplate these internal and external experiences, where can you find a sense of comfort and ease? What do you find nourishing to you at this moment? Can you connect to a sense of gladness for being here and getting through the day, despite aspects of today’s experience that are uncomfortable or stressful?
4. Collecting mementos
Hanging on to little objects relating to positive events and things you’re thankful for in life can help you have concrete reminders to feel grateful. If you’re crafty, you could collage these into a scrapbook or other form of artwork, but doing something simple, like repurposing a small storage container as a memory box, works just as well.
The purpose of this exercise is not to just clutter your home with items — be intentional about what you choose to save. Examples could include a theater ticket from an especially romantic date you had with your spouse or the collar your dog was wearing the day you picked him up from the shelter.
The human brain is wired to recall bad experiences more frequently than good ones — taking the time to curate reminders of cherished memories is a great antidote as it injects more gratitude into your life.
Where to go next
Opening yourself up to gratitude can inspire you to do more work on deepening your relationships, improving your self care, or exploring your life goals. Getting guidance in therapy can enhance your journey — if you’re curious to learn more, let’s set up a time to chat. Click the button below to set up a free phone consultation and talk through more about how therapy might be helpful to you.