10 ways to increase gratitude without obligation
Let’s face it, gratitude is trendy. As something trendy, it can prompt the “yeah yeah yeah, turn the page” reaction.
It’s on magazine covers, it’s on social media, Oprah talks about it. Kelsey Grammer talks about it. Jennifer Lopez talks about it.
And yet, it seems like people fall into one of 3 camps when it comes to feelings about gratitude and participating in a gratitude practice. Camp one is composed of those people who have already drank the kool aid, they are all in on gratitude and gratitude practices. They already have some daily practice to incorporate gratitude that is automatic as brushing. Camp 2 is for people who haven’t really thought about gratitude, they have missed the hoopla all together. In camp 3 we have the people who mentally disregard the idea of gratitude practices or the idea of adding in one more thing to their daily to do list. Now, this isn’t to say that the second 2 groups are ungrateful, we are just talking about intentionally having some type of formal routine each day to make sure to think about being grateful.
To be clear, this is a totally optional activity. People who have a gratitude practice are not better than people who don’t. People who don’t do this aren’t morally inferior.
It’s just an option, an option that has research to support that it will improve happiness and quality of life, much like exercise.
Read that again. It’s optional AND morally neutral. You don’t HAVE to do it.
That being said, it’s really good and I would highly recommend it.
I was giving a presentation this week on burnout and I referred to having a gratitude practice. I had asked on a 0/10 scale, how open the participants were to the idea of starting their own gratitude practice. That’s when one of the attendees asked me to define what a gratitude practice even is. I was honestly a little surprised. Somehow I had forgotten the time, not that long ago, that I too had no idea what a gratitude practice was or the magnitude of the positive effects it would have on my life. By asking how open they were to it, I was putting the cart before the horse.
So here’s the deal. A gratitude practice is just a daily routine that involves PRACTICING gratitude. It is taking a minute or two to intentionally pause and be grateful for something. It doesn’t have to be every day. It doesn’t have to involve closing your eyes or meditation. It doesn’t always have to be easy. It is PRACTICING, the same way you would practice a musical instrument or a new sport.
The beauty of this is you can’t do it wrong, it’s just practice.
There are many different ways people practice gratitude. I like making a list every morning when I get to work. I take 3 minutes at the beginning of the day to list 10 things I am grateful for and 10 wins (this is code for 10 things that I am grateful that I did). With the items on my gratitude list, I strive for no frequent repeats but that’s just my own personal rule. After the easy things like the health of my children, I find myself being grateful that I got to work on time, that I don’t have to stop and get gas today, that I have a new gel pen to write my gratitude list with, that I woke up without a headache.
For the wins, these are things that I want to do that sometimes I struggle with. If I’m lucky, these often have repeats: I drank my water, I got outside at lunch to walk for a few minutes, I prepped dinner on Sunday for Monday, I paid the bills that were piling up. I haven’t found any research to support the use of writing down wins, but I do know that it has improved my self satisfaction and decreased the attention I pay to the ever-present negative self-talk. It’s basically gratitude for my yesterday-self.
So back to gratitude practices. When you think of the 0-10/10 scale of willingness to consider a gratitude practice, where are you? Do you feel a little resistant? I won’t judge you if you do, after all, I am resistant to exercise and yet I 100% know the benefits. If it’s hard to practice something like exercise EVEN WHEN we have belief in the results, practicing something when we have skepticism is even harder.
In the research, even small gratitude practices have had profound benefits on overall health and wellness.
But here’s the thing, practicing gratitude is soooo much easier than exercise AND you don’t need to put on a sports bra (WIN).
Even if it sounds ridiculous and too good to be true, WHAT IF IT WORKS?
On the chance that you may be willing to consider a gratitude practice, here are some options of ways to do it. Any one of them can work.
If you journal, start or end your journaling with a list of things you are grateful for- aim for no repeats.
Make a gratitude jar. This is exactly what it sounds like, Put a glass jar somewhere in your home or on your desk at work and leave little papers next to it. Every day, write one thing you are grateful for and throw it in. It’s a really nice visual reminder as well.
Thank someone. Go out of your way to find someone to thank daily, even if it’s someone that you see every day, Thanking someone is the result of thinking about what they do for you and appreciating it (AKA gratitude).
Have a running list on the side of your fridge or in the notes on your phone. Add one thing to the list every day.
When talking with a friend or a coworker, make a point of reminiscing. “Do you remember when” is a great way to think about something that you are grateful for.
Is there something that you write on every day? A to do list? Your patient schedule? Your Calendar? Is it reasonable to write one thing on this paper each morning that you are grateful for? Linking it to something like this that you are already writing on can be a great reminder.
Another similar option is to link a gratitude practice to some task that you do every day, like brushing your teeth. Can you make a mental note of 3 things that you are grateful for while brushing your teeth? Having a hard time remembering? Put a post-it on your mirror until it becomes a habit, or take a sharpie and write “gratitude” on the toothbrush.
Can’t think of anything? Google “gratitude prompts” and get lists of things to get you started, things I am grateful for with my pets, things I am grateful for that I can see from where I am sitting, songs that I love, and accomplishment I am proud of, a challenge that I’ve gotten through (you get the idea).
Download a gratitude app or join a gratitude group on social media.
Or one of the newest ones that I learned from another nurse coach, scroll through the pictures on your phone. These are things that were important enough to you to take a picture of. Use these as visual gratitude prompts.
There are a lot of different options, these are just a few. The important thing isn’t how you do it or how many things you come up with. The value comes from training your brain to look for these things, the value comes from the act of being grateful, of steering your brain toward the things that have gone right. Don’t worry, the other things will still be there without us making any effort to find them.
So if you aren’t currently trying something like this, it’s totally fine. But I don’t want you to miss out on the benefits which is why I went through the details. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or sad or just blah, maybe think of this strategy.
It’s easy, it’s evidence based, and it doesn’t take any sports equipment or special clothing.
Yup it’s a basic one. But sometimes the basics are all we need to be a little happier
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