How to Start a Gratitude Practice and Improve Your Life

When I first heard about people writing gratitudes in their journals and planners, I thought it was a waste of time.  

It just seemed like one more list in a large collection of lists.  Just another task to add to my never ending to do list.  

Although for some people it probably is just another task, it doesn’t have to be.  

Practicing gratitude can change your life and improve your relationships with yourself and others.  Read on to learn more about how to practice gratitude. 

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What is Gratitude?

The dictionary gives the following gratitude definition: “the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”  Psychology Today uses the following gratitude definition:  “emotion expressing appreciation for what one has.”  

Other words for gratitude (synonyms for gratitude) are things like:  thanks, appreciation, gratefulness, and thankfulness. 

You get the gist.  Gratitude is a positive feeling, being thankful for something.  

Gratitude isn’t something that’s forced.  It isn’t something that should be expected.  It is kind of like a gift you give to yourself and others without expecting things in return.  

What Does it Mean to Practice Gratitude?

You might be thinking that since gratitude is a feeling, you don’t really need to practice it.  Usually we practice behaviors, not feelings!

Actually, you are going to be practicing a behavior.  That behavior is focusing your mind on positives and on things you’re grateful for.  

A gratitude practice is taking time each day to be mindfully aware of what you’re grateful for.  

For instance, look around the room you are in right now.  Is there something in the room that you feel grateful for?  Something that brings you joy or that helps you be comfortable? 

How about the air you breathe that keeps you alive?  There are a lot of things to be grateful for each and every day; however, we don’t always pay attention to those things.

It isn’t that we aren’t grateful. 

It’s that we take these things for granted.  

I think a lot of people have had a real wake up call about this in the present circumstances.  The world has changed so much during the pandemic and this situation isn’t like anything most of us have ever experienced. 

The simple act of going out to eat or visiting with friends seems like a thing of the past.  We took these things for granted and right now we aren’t really able to do them without taking precautions.  

Of course right now when we can’t really do those things we can see how great they were.  When they were just a part of every day normal life, we didn’t even think about them much. 

Imagine what it would be like if you got to enjoy the things in life that you appreciate in the moment that you’re experiencing them…instead of missing them when they’re gone!

This is what a gratitude practice is all about.  It is being mindful of the need to focus on the positives in life.  

How To Practice Gratitude

There are several ways you could choose to practice gratitude.  I recommend doing what comes easiest to you and what feels right to you.

First, you could practice gratitude by simply setting aside some time during each day to reflect on what went well or what you were especially thankful for that day.  

It is usually helpful to set up some kind of reminder on your phone so that you get into the habit of practicing gratitude.  It’s easy to forget when you’re first developing a habit.  

Since this is the simplest way to practice gratitude, I suggest just having this be a part of your planner.  The planner pages I am currently using are ones I created for my Etsy shop and I added a small gratitude section to remind myself to focus on gratitude daily.  You can see this printable planner page below:  

 

Second, you could use a dedicated gratitude journal like this one from Erin Condren.  These types of journals are made with prompts to help you to practice gratitude.  The benefit of using the Erin Condren one is that it’s beautiful, which will make you want to use it.  

In addition to using my planner page, I have done gratitude practice in other journals.  Currently I use a blank notebook that I use only for this purpose.  It is a book where I write about things I’m grateful for.  When I use this gratitude journal I tend to be focused only on positive emotions and gratitude.  

Another thing that’s helpful is to do gratitude meditations.  I am a huge fan of guided meditation and hypnosis audios.  Here is an example of a recording on How to Develop a Gratitude Attitude.  

Why is Gratitude Practice Important?

Ever notice how sometimes you go through each day not really paying much attention, not really noticing anything good in life? 

Yes, it’s really easy to focus on things that are going wrong.  It’s easy to focus on what you don’t have or what you wish could be different.  

Our minds tend to go in that direction.

Practicing gratitude gives you a different experience because you become mindful of the things that you appreciate about life.  

If you want to create a more positive outlook on life, gratitude practice can help you get there.  

At the end of the day, your life is affected by the way you talk to yourself and by what you focus your attention on.  

If you focus your attention on everything wrong with your life, then you feel like crap.  

If you focus on things you enjoy or appreciate about life, you feel good.

Simple! 

How does this work though?

What you put your attention on determines your focus.  Here is a great video of how Oprah Winfrey has used a gratitude journal to change her focus:

Have you ever had the experience where you buy something new and at the time you feel like it is really unique…but the minute you purchase it you see it everywhere?  Maybe you purchased a new car and then all of a sudden you see that same car everywhere.  

When we focus on something it activates a part of our brain called the reticular activating system.  All those cars were already there but you just weren’t paying attention before.  Once you became interested in that type of car, your brain was alert to looking for that car.  This is your reticular activating system.

That type of car was there all along, you just weren’t paying attention.  You see, we cannot pay attention to all of the things or we would be completely overwhelmed.  There’s just too much.  

Gratitude practice helps you to actually focus your attention on positive things, kind of like the car…but deliberate.  

When you make gratitude practice a habit, it goes even further than this because each day you tend to be looking for things that are positive.  Your focus changes.  Instead of bing ready for “the other shoe to drop” all the time, you start focus on looking for the good in life.  I think this is the most awesome part about gratitude practice.

When you know you have to write something in your journal, you’re more receptive to noticing and receiving positive things in your life.

What happens when you focus on the good in life? 

Benefits of Gratitude

How could focusing on what you appreciate instead of what you lack improve your life  Gratitude can lead to:

  • Lower stress
  • Recognition of what is important
  • Saving money
  • Enjoying what you have
  • Improve your relationship
  • Enjoy life more
  • Be more mindful of positives and actually experience the positive things in life.  
  • Self Love

In fact, gratitude can seem to change your whole life.  When you are open to and notice positive things happening around you, you get to actually experience those things!  

How to Practice Gratitude "The Right Way"

If you want this to be an effective practice, you have to make it meaningful.  You can’t just expect that if you make a list every day that it will make any difference.  This is why just writing gratitudes in your journal to fill a page is not effective.  

When you’re practicing gratitude, you have to actually feel your emotions around what you are grateful for.  It makes a difference when you take time to actually feel the feelings of gratitude.  

Some days will be easier than others.  For that reason, you don’t have to do gratitude practice daily.

How Often Should I Practice Gratitude?

Here’s the thing.  In the printable planner pages I use, there is a gratitude section that is on each page.  So it is easy for me to think about something I’m grateful for every day.  

There’s no right or wrong answer to how often to practice gratitude.  The answer comes down to how often you can do it in a meaningful way.  

If you feel you have to practice daily, this could lead to you just writing things down to finish the task instead of actually feeling the gratitude behind what you’re writing down.  When it becomes “just a task” it isn’t going to be helpful.

In fact, it could be somewhat harmful because you might decide it isn’t’ working and stop altogether.  So while I think it is helpful to practice gratitude frequently, I don’t think it’s helpful to do it just to do it.  

That’s why I have a gratitude journal that’s separate from my planner.  It is just a book where I list things I’m grateful for from time to time.  

What Should I Write in a Gratitude Journal

  • The question that may be coming up for you is “what the heck do I write about in my gratitude journal?”  

It’s going to depend on the format you are using.  On my planner page recently, I’ve usually just been writing “my health.”  

There is a lot of feeling behind that though.  I work in healthcare and we are working to combat the pandemic every day.   I’m grateful to be healthy.  

In my gratitude journal, I may write names of people I’m grateful for that day, or I might write a little story about something that happened that I am particularly grateful for.  This helps me to feel those feelings again in the future when I reread my entry (bonus!).

Here are some examples from my journal: 

  • I have a nice job
  • My husband does nice things for me (like cleaning dog poop!)
  • electricity (the internet is amazing)
  • My ability to cook 
  • Riley (my 16 year old dog) is healthy.  He was spinning in circles with excitement when I pulled out the leash today and it was cute.  
  • I’m no longer afraid of public speaking!
  • Husband went to the Apple Store with me even though he hates going there.  
  • I know how to clean the back of the refrigerator.  
As you can see, I have a mix of things.  I like to put in things I’m grateful for about others, about my pets, and also about different abilities I have.  
 
Practicing gratitude about yourself is powerful, especially when you’re used to beating yourself up with negative thoughts.  When you take some time to write down things you’re grateful about in yourself, it helps you to like yourself more.  
 
Now that’s a life changer!
 
 

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