The Practice of Cultivating Gratitude

It’s been proven that the benefits of gratitude can be life altering in many ways but the fact is, we are not hard-wired to be grateful. And like any skill worth having, gratitude requires practice.

So how do we begin to practice and bring gratitude into our daily lives?

Here are 4 simple gratitude practices for you to try:

Give It Up

  • Choose something that you enjoy doing on a regular basis. Such as drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Or watching the evening news.
  • On Day 1, allow yourself to indulge in this activity as usual.
  • Then, for one week, do not allow yourself to indulge in this pleasure at all. If you cannot last a week, at least go through one entire day.
  • At the end of the week, allow yourself to indulge again. As you do so, pay close attention to how you feel. Note physical sensations like taste or heart rate. Note any difference in the pleasure level you derive. Notice and mood changes.

The next time you practice GIVE IT UP, try it with a different pleasure activity. Try to become more aware of what activities give you more pleasure and determine the reason. Notice how they make you feel. Try to imagine how you would feel if you were never able to enjoy a certain activity ever again. Try to imagine the gratitude you might start to cultivate if you knew this could be your last chance to indulge.

Gratitude Journal

There is really no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal. Please feel free to express your own creativity. You know what works best for you!

  • A suggestion is to record up to five things that you feel grateful for. It’s important to keep a physical record, as opposed to just a mental note. Your list can include small things such as a tasty lunch, or larger events such as a job promotion.
  • The goal here is to recall the positive emotional experience that accompanies the activity, event, or person involved.
  • Try to be as specific as possible, which will encourage maximum feelings of gratitude. For example: “I’m grateful that my brother helped me move all my furniture on Saturday” is much more effective than “I’m grateful for my brother.”
  • Aim for quality over quantity. Rather than a long list of small details that your grateful for, try to elaborate in great detail about one particular event.
  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
  • On the flip side, consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just focusing on the good things. Notice the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive.
  • See good things as “gifts.” Thinking of the good things in your life as gifts guards against taking them for granted. Try to relish and savor the gifts you’ve received.
  • Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
  • Try to write regularly. Whether it’s every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal.

But don’t overdo it! Studies suggests that writing occasionally (1-3 times per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling, which can become too routine, or a ‘no brainer’ where you are just attempting to fill the pages.

Gratitude Letter

  • Bring someone to mind who did something for you, but you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who is still alive and could meet up with you in person.
  • Write a letter to one of these people, guided by the following steps. The invitation is to write as though you are addressing this person directly (Dear John). The spelling and grammar is not as important as the heartfelt message you want to get across.
  • Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behaviour affected your life. Try to be as descriptive as possible. Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
  • Try to keep your letter to roughly one page.
  • To reap the maximum benefits of this practice, it is highly recommended the you try to deliver your letter in person. Even better if you can read the letter out loud to them. This gives you a chance to see their reaction and appreciation first hand. It also gives you both a chance to discuss your feelings together.
  • If the person is at a longer distance, try to arrange a phone or Skype chat. Email is a last resort, but we all know how emails get skimmed over in a hurry.
  • Lastly, even if you never plan to send the letter, or don’t think you could, just writing it down on paper can have some positive effects.

Savouring Walk

  • Try to schedule yourself 20 minutes per day to take a walk outside every day for a week. In the event of extremely bad weather, you can opt to walk around indoors, trying to find a more beautiful space such as an art gallery, or heritage building.
  • As you walk, try to notice as many positive things around you as you can. These can be sights, sounds, smells, or other sensations. For example, the smell of fresh grass after a rainfall. The rays of light across a sunset sky. The interesting architecture of the building.
  • As you notice each of these positive things, really try take them in. Try to identify what it is about that thing that makes it pleasurable to you.
  • Try to walk a different route each day so you don’t become too accustomed to any of these things and start to take them for granted.

Stay tuned for part 3 in our series – The challenges of cultivating gratitude.

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