Sure, there are probably countless articles out there about the things we could and should be grateful for during this time of year.
But, let me ask you this:
Have any of those articles told you how to be grateful?
Or better yet, the best way possible to practice gratitude?
I mean, really, we’re all looking for the most effective way to do everything these days. We even “hack” things like In-N-Out Burger. Why should gratitude be any different? Can we “hack” gratefulness? Could there be a Tim Ferriss style “minimum effective dose” of giving thanks?
I believe there is.
And, I believe all other methods of gratitude pale in comparison.
Suck it, Trebek.
Ok, probably not how you thought a blog post on gratitude would get started, but sometimes I just get riled up and can’t help myself.
This usually happens when I’ve struggled with something in my own life and painstakingly tried about a million different ways to fix it. Once the right methodology or practice finally reveals itself to me, I just can’t help but rush to its defense, share it with the world, and unceremoniously wipe out all other types of solutions that stood in its way.
Don’t worry. It’s something I’ll work on during that whole “New Year’s Resolutions” thing coming up soon [insert link here].
Anyway, one of the most recent examples of this type of personal struggle was in trying to prime myself to be more grateful throughout the day.
A few years ago, I was in a pretty bad place, relatively speaking.
I was living in an apartment in complete isolation from my roommate. We lived in a part of town that didn’t exactly invite friendship or camaraderie among neighbors. I was working about five different jobs at once just to pay rent and have enough to eat (waitress, freelance writer, business development contractor, online textbook editor, and retail, just to name a few). I felt alone and lonely almost all the time, and just wondered when things would start to get better.
And then… weirdly enough… slowly but surely... they did.
I moved in with a new roommate, one of my best friends in the world. We lived in a more residential area with sweet neighbors and bars, restaurants, and shops within walking distance. I negotiated a full-time role as an independent contractor for an incredible business. I could work independently and have time to build up my blog, podcast, and following. I started public speaking more regularly. I wrote a few new workshops and keynotes. I started dating someone new.
All signs led to happy times.
But the weird thing wasn’t that things were getting better.
The weird thing was that my brain was stuck in negativity mode.
I was sure that a disaster was around the corner. Any minute now, my roommate would snap (because best friends should never live together, right?). Or better yet, I would lose my job (because who really allows that much freedom?). Or maybe my new boyfriend would suddenly realize that he made a huge mistake (I’d been heartbroken before, so what made this different?).
Despite the fact that my life was objectively better and getting better by the day, my mind refused to leave survival mode and remained subjectively convinced that I was doomed.
So what’s joy-foreboding girl to do?
This was new territory for me, so I did what I usually do—pray, talk to people, and consult the interwebs.
The resounding answer was this—in order to prime your brain for positivity you need to start a gratitude practice!
And while that was all well-and-good advice, I was a little overwhelmed to get started. If you Google just the word “gratitude,” you’ll get over 81 million results. That’s right—81 million opinions on the why, how, when, where, and what of gratefulness.
Seriously, there are about as many gratitude practices as there are types of peanut butter.
Kinda leaves you wondering, well, which on is the best?
And now, after much research and even more practice, I think I’ve come up with the best possible combination for a gratitude practice. One that really serves you and doesn’t just feel like you’re checking the Gratefulness Box. One that gives you a light and a lightness with which you can more throughout your day. One that creates a legacy of thankfulness for you to enjoy.
Now, I say combination, because I believe there is an optimal set of activities that surround your gratitude practice that will set you up for success.
The Best Way to Practice Gratitude
- Do it first thing in the morning.
Research shows that how we start our day is generally how we continue our day, AND that our willpower is actually the strongest it will ever be in the morning.
Remember that pesky phrase, “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”? That idiom suggests that even the way we wake up (aka, the way we begin our day) can set us on the right or wrong track.
Showing your gratitude first thing in the morning primes you not only to be more grateful throughout the day, but to reinforce the gratefulness with which you began the day.
Do yourself a favor and set the tone for your day. “Early in the day” is not enough. You should be doing this practice even before you get out of bed.
- Give yourself some structure
I don’t know about you, but when I stare at a blank piece of paper or a completely empty Word document, I get nervous.
What am I going to write? How long should it be? Should I have it left aligned or centered? Can I use bullets or full sentences?
Too many questions, if you ask me! And remember, you’re going to be doing this first thing in the morning, so don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
Give yourself some structure by purchasing a journal made exactly for the task. I recommend the Five Minute Journal, and I use it daily. If you’re not into their style, then create a document or find one on the internet that at least gives you a set amount of lines or questions to answer. Just promise me that you'll write something down and not just "think about it." That way you'll have a record to look back on and you'll get your body on the same playing field as your mind.
Don’t get derailed by a blank page!
- More of less is more- get specific
Abuhhhh… you might be thinking?
More of less is more, means that I while I want you to only focus on one thing, I want you to dig deep into that one thing.
Still, you’re confused. I'll explain.
Basically, the research goes like this. Psychologists at USC did a 10-week study in which they had three groups of people testing three different gratitude practices. Group One wrote five different things they were grateful for. Group Two wrote 5 specific reasons they were grateful for 1 thing. Group 3 wrote about reasons they had it better (or were better) than other people.
Don’t worry about Group Three—they’re ok, I’m sure, despite their brief brush with narcissism.
The research shows that Group Two—who got really specific about 1 particular thing for which they were grateful—showed marked improvements in elatedness, excitement, and alertness and were less tired, sad, and lethargic than the other two groups.
I can tell you, this practice is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.
So there you have it:
- Do it first thing in the morning
- Give yourself some structure
- More of less is more- get specific
Commit to doing this practice for 5 days in a row—just 5—and see how you feel afterward.
Remember, real change comes in baby-steps.
And always know that I’m extremely thankful for you and your readership. Please leave me a comment below or write me an email sharing your personal gratitude practice or, if you’d like to try mine, let me know how it’s working for you!
Can’t wait to hear all about it, and hope you have the Happiest of Thanksgivings!