Each year, when November comes around, we meet up to celebrate family, fun, and food. Thanksgiving is a major holiday, and though the original intention of the day may have been diluted over the years by our society’s focus on excess – MORE food, MORE shopping hours, MORE sales – it is nonetheless a day when we come together to give thanks for the people and things we are grateful for in our lives. It’s all in the name, “Thanks-giving”!
But what if we did not isolate our feelings of gratitude to only a single day each year? What if we made time to cultivate gratitude and appreciation on a daily basis?
How could this minor change in perspective impact our lives?
As it turns out, setting aside just a few minutes each day to note what we are grateful for, and allowing ourselves to truly feel the sensation of gratitude that comes along with such an activity, can have incredible and far-reaching effects. Using the concepts behind Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, a major theory of psychology that suggests our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are all connected, we can see how such a practice can help us to be happier, healthier, and more prepared to face the day. CBT states that, by focusing on changing one of these aspects of ourselves (a behavior, the way we think, or how we handle emotions), we can bring about change in the others as well. In this article, we will look at how making time each day to create a “gratitude list” (in other words, a change in behavior) can positively affect our thoughts and emotions.
Now, some of you may be thinking that you already show gratitude on a daily basis. After all, many of us say “thank you” multiple times per day in our interactions with family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers. But politeness does not necessarily equate to gratitude. Gratitude is a complex emotion that requires self-reflection, humility, and empathy for others. By cultivating gratitude beyond simple politeness, we can take our appreciation a step further and reap the life-changing benefits of this dynamic emotion.
One simple method for harnessing the power of gratitude is by creating a daily “gratitude list”. If you are interested in improving your mood and perspective through gratitude practices, this is a great place to start. We will review some of the steps required to begin incorporating this simple and powerful practice into your daily routine.
- Commit to Gratitude Practice – The first few times you sit down to create your gratitude list, you may find that the benefits of doing so are not immediately clear. But don’t become discouraged! This is a spiritual practice that will become more effective with time and practice. Even if you have to force yourself to stick with it at first, the practice will likely pull you in once you begin to see the long-term benefits.
- Choose a Specific Time of Day – When attempting to add a new habit to your routine, it can be especially helpful to practice it at the same time each day. The same holds true when creating your gratitude list. You will want to set aside 5 – 10 minutes in order to complete your daily list. Many people choose to create their lists first thing in the morning, claiming it helps them to start their day on a positive note. Others may choose to create their lists in the evening, before bed, as this allows them to reflect on the day and what they were grateful for. There is no wrong time to practice gratitude, but do your best to stick to the same time each day!
- Write Down a List – Now comes the actual list. Sit down with a pen or pencil and a piece of paper, and write the words “I am grateful for…” at the top of the paper. For what are you grateful? To whom in the past and present are you grateful? Reflect on these questions, and allow the words to flow onto your paper.
- Feel It – Remember, gratitude is a complex emotion that requires humility, self-reflection, and empathy for others. When you can summon up the feeling of gratitude in your heart, allow it to flow through every part of your being. The goal is to carry that gratitude with you throughout your day, until it is time to create tomorrow’s list.
- Keep It Up – Some days, you can write your list without feeling an ounce of gratitude. That’s OK. In fact, these may be the days when you are most in need of a reminder. Stick with your routine, and make an extra effort to add new people or things you are grateful for that you may not have considered before.
- Share It – Share your gratitude list with family or friends. Some people may choose to find an “accountability buddy” who also wants to make gratitude a part of their daily routines. This can help to keep you on track, and give you a positive support for difficult days.
- Start From The Beginning!
by DJ Spigener, MA, LMHC