The word gratitude evokes images of smiling, counting our blessings, hugging our friends, doling out compliments, and saying “thank you” for what we have. Research has even indicated that practicing gratitude can improve our moods, relationships, and physical health.
But everyday life often gets in the way of practicing thankfulness and appreciation in an authentic way. Valid questions arise such as “How can I truly be grateful in the face of personal tragedy? Is It really healthy to just paste on a fake smile and say that I’m grateful, even when I’m hurting?”
Here are 3 simple gratitude exercises to help you appreciate the present moment, focus on the positive, and spread joy to yourself and others – all while being true to yourself:
- Practice grounded gratitude.
One of the biggest misconceptions about gratitude is that you need to be happy and perky all the time in order to feel grateful. Grounded gratitude is the practice of honoring your true feelings while also finding things to be thankful for at the same time
You can feel jealous of your friends, confused about your future, hurt about a breakup… and also grateful for other elements of your life. You don’t need to mask those heavier feelings, and when you start to see the world through the lens of grounded gratitude you will find that it’s possible to hold more than one emotion at once.
To practice, take a journal and fill in the following sentence:
I’m struggling with _________ right now, and at the same time I’m really grateful for _______.
When coming up with things that you appreciate, start small. Can you feel grateful for your cozy sweater, for the way your cat curls up in your lap, for the barista who complimented your glasses yesterday? These small glimmers of positivity can have a massive impact on your well-being when you make the decision to concentrate on them.
- Change your focus.
All it takes is one quick glance at the news to see that the world has a myriad of problems that need to be solved, but you get to decide where to place your attention.
You can scroll through the news for two hours and feel hopeless, or you can volunteer for a local organization that is working to create positive changes. You can spend every evening complaining about the things you hate about your job, or you can consciously turn your attention to the aspects of your career that feel fulfilling.
To be clear: gratitude is not an excuse to bury our heads in the sand about important issues. But when you make the decision to shift towards thankfulness and positivity in these moments, you give yourself the gift of a fresh perspective.
When it comes to focusing on the things you can appreciate, don’t forget to include yourself! To practice changing your focus, you can start with your morning routine. Rather than dwelling on your insecurities, look at yourself in the mirror when you’re getting ready in the morning and state three things you love about yourself.
Examples could include: “I love and am so grateful for this body that carries me through every day…. I love my smile and how it brings joy to others… I love my eyes because they sparkle… I love the curls in my hair…”
- Spread gratitude.
Your list of things to be thankful for doesn’t need to stay confined to your mirror and your journal. When you develop the habit of giving and receiving expressions of gratitude to the people around you, you bring joy to their lives as well as your own.
Usually “Thanks!” is a word that we shout over our shoulder to the babysitter as we rush out the door to work. When someone pauses to give us a unique and heartfelt compliment, it can feel like time has stopped in that moment as we are truly seen and appreciated for who we are.
To practice, take the time today to look someone in the eye and thank them for something genuine and specific. “Thanks for being a great boss” is a good start, but “Thanks for letting me take the lead on that project and trusting me – it means a lot to me that you had my back and let me grow,” is even better.
Fair warning: once you start telling people how much you appreciate them and you see what a positive impact this has on them, you may not want to stop!
It’s easy to get swept up in our routines and to-do lists without pausing to appreciate the details of our lives, which is why practicing gratitude is such a radical act of self-care.
When you look for things to be thankful for, it’s like you plant your foot in the ground and say: “My life matters. This moment matters. There is beauty in my day-to-day experiences, and no matter what challenges I face, I am always worthy of finding the silver lining.”
Gratitude is a practice that builds upon itself. By practicing thankfulness through the exercises above, you will likely discover that the more often you look for things to appreciate, the more positive things you will find.
For more on thankfulness, including audio sessions like “It’s OK to be Ungrateful,” tune into our From Grumpy to Grateful series on the Sanity & Self app. Get a sneak peek below by clicking play, and listen to the entire series with Kelsey in the Sanity & Self App.