You don’t have to look to far on the Internet, in self-help books, and even through lifestyle and inspirational social media accounts to find a sentiment close to the following: gratitude is a game-changer. Sometimes, when I’m scrolling through Intagram, I come across influencers talking about how gratitude changed everything for them, and I roll my eyes just a little. Internet discussions of gratitude don’t always feel genuine, authentic, or even practical (especially when they are dominated by wealthy, successful individuals). Moreover, this year especially has been full of hardships for most people, and sometimes gratitude just feels like making a mockery of the suffering that does exist in our lives. However, a plethora of psychological data corroborates that consistently practicing gratitude noticeably improves mood, productivity, and overall health, indicating that even in life’s most uncertain times, gratitude is worth examining more closely as a practice to incorporate into daily life.
While gratitude does not have the ability to improve your life’s overall state of affairs, it does have the power to re-center yourself on the concrete goodness around you, which leads to the aforementioned benefits. It’s more than wishful thinking, looking on the bright side of things, or ignoring your pain (which is never healthy). Gratitude is about anchoring ourselves on the real good, true, and beautiful around and within us so that life’s storms do not pull us under. Rather than seeing gratitude as an attack on real hardships that exist, it is more accurate to say that gratitude is one remedy to falling into the despair these hardships can cause. So, how can one implement gratitude practically?
For some, being told that gratitude is better for your mental and physical health might be enough to implement it as a daily habit right out of the gate. For me, this has not been the case. American wellness-obsessed culture constantly throws around more ideas to stay mentally and physically healthy than most people have the capacity to hold onto, so gratitude can become just one in a slew of other practices that sound great, but, well, for other people. Finding a personal connection or meaning in why gratitude could be important for you specifically is instrumental in adopting it as a practice. Plain and simple, habits don’t stick if we don’t truly believe they are important. Some motivators to practice gratitude could be that you desire more peace and joy throughout your days, you want to honor your inner child through tapping into greater wonder and awe at the world, you want to become a more positive person, or you want to notice more things that are going right in your life rather than what’s going sour. Once you have your ‘why,’ it can be helpful to write out your motivation on a piece of paper or index card and place it somewhere where you know you’ll see it often (like your bathroom mirror or fridge). Reading a statement that you have given yourself such as, “I want to be aware of the good that is around me” can daily remind you of the kind of person you desire to be and how gratitude can help you on that journey.
Once you have a motivation to practice gratitude, take stock of your day-to-day routines to see where a gratitude habit could realistically fit into your day. This could be keeping a note on your phone with the intention to list one thing you’re grateful for each day, or a gratitude journal by your bed that you incorporate as part of your nightly routine. It is also important when first starting to implement gratitude as a habit to set a reminder on your phone, or jot a post-it to yourself so that you remember to take note of your gratitude for the day. If you have roommates, coworkers you are close with, or anyone you see on a daily basis, you can ask them to practice gratitude with you, and then set a time to share with each other each day. No matter how you choose to practice gratitude, the benefits of greater peace, joy, and better mental health remain the same, so even if you start small and just name aloud one thing you are grateful for everyday, you will see the positive effects that gratitude can have on your life.