Gratitude is fundamentally defined as the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation (Sansone & Sansone, 2010). Gratitude can take the shape of many different practices for different people and the net result is that it has a powerful effect on well-being. As the empirical evidence for gratitude amounts, it is being incorporated into psychotherapy more often.
The purpose of this article is to share some of my practices of gratitude and how it shows up in my life, so you might start looking at incorporating some gratitude practices into your own life.
To find gratitude, I first look at the world through the eyes of wonder and curiosity
I first began a practice of gratitude by reflecting daily on, and writing about, 10 things for which I was grateful. At the beginning, I was grateful for the house I live in, for my family, for my pets and the simple things. Each day I challenged myself to look for the new and never repeat an item. As months passed, I noticed that I was grateful for everyday occurrences, but described in rich detail. I looked at my surrounding with the eyes of a newborn, seeing everything for the first time. I was filled with wonder and curiosity
Here is a journal entry from a day on the ocean to help you appreciate what an everyday entry into my gratitude journal might look like.
“I am so appreciative of the opportunity to vacate, here. Here. Now. Where the ocean meets the sky. Where clouds like candyfloss weave and grow from the horizon. Where the ocean looks as blue as a Laurentian pencil crayon called ‘ocean blue.’ And, I smile because although I have always been drawn to that colour, I now know how it came to be named. It’s ocean blue.”
I noticed beauty and pleasure in seeing the spectacular red of a Sugar Maple tree, the bite of October’s chilly air, and the first frost of the season. I was grateful for the wild weeds at the cottage; the yellows of golden rod, ragweed, and the fiery red of the Sumac trees.
Life on autopilot speeds up time
Our brains are wired to operate efficiently. The brain likes autopilot because it is saving energy for bigger problem solving. The problem is, that on autopilot we are not really present in the moment. Time flies by and you think, “where did the last year, or decade go?”
By taking time to notice my surroundings, especially when I am in nature, I get to shift out of autopilot. Each day has more moments where I feel alive, feel more joy, and time seems to slow down.
Do you remember when you were a kid, and summers stretched on forever? Do you remember how long a school year was? Think of how a child finds wonder and joy in the simplest of forms like a butterfly or a frog.
Today’s moments, shape tomorrows memories
When I wake at 3 am and have trouble falling back to sleep, I go back into my mind’s eye and remember the things for which I was so grateful. I recall them with vibrant detail. I think about those moments and what I could hear, what I could see, what I could touch and what I was feeling at that moment. This quietens my active brain and allows me to fall back to sleep. Really living here in this present moment, noticing all the beauty in detail lays down the foundation for our memories of tomorrow. I am grateful I get to have a bouquet of memories every single day.
Simple every day practices of gratitude have impact on well-being
Sansone & Sansone (2010) list out several ways to integrate gratitude practices. None of them are complicated and all have been studied, and have shown to improve well-being significantly:
- Journaling about things for which to be grateful
- Thinking about someone for whom you are grateful
- Writing/sending a letter to someone for whom you are grateful
- Meditating on gratitude (present moment awareness)
- Undertaking the “Count Your Blessings” exercise (at the end of the week, writing down three things for which you were grateful)
- Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere and meaningful way
- Writing thank you notes
- If religious, praying about your gratitude
Finding gratitude is like experiencing heaven on earth
Finding gratitude is like experiencing heaven today, on this earth, in the time that I have now. I believe the world needs more people living fully alive. Gratitude is one practice that helps me do just that and I hope my reflections help you start looking for, and appreciating, your moments of gratitude.
What are you most grateful for? If you want to talk about how to bring more gratitude and joy into your life, let’s talk!
Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: The benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 7(11), 18.
Article: Written by Juli Fyfe
Photo Credit: Juli Fyfe