Of course, this is always easier said than done. I remember a decade back, when I first started making a concerted effort to ‘be more grateful’ that it was almost painful to stop and recognise some of the blessings I had in life. It was much easier for me to moan about all the things that were going wrong, or that I felt were lacking, instead of appreciating what was going right.
A couple of things really helped me to start the process of being more grateful (although for honesty’s sake, I should tell you that it’s still ongoing, and I still have moments when I start taking things for granted again, and forget that God actually doesn’t owe me anything, and that everything is actually a gift.)
The first was reading an amazing book called ‘The Garden of Gratitude’ by spiritual guide Shalom Arush, which set out a whole bunch of spiritual reasons why moaning and complaining just set you up for more misery and suffering, while saying thanks brings miracles and happiness in it’s wake.
You can buy a copy of the book HERE.
Alternatively, I recently found a great website called Gratitude Daily (www.gratitudedaily.net), which is based on the Garden of Gratitude. It has a bunch of amazing stories, and also a daily ‘gratitude challenge’ that you can sign up for, for free.
Start a gratitude list, or notebook
The second thing that helped me was making the effort to sit down and start to right down all the things I had in my life to be grateful for. This sounds like it should take 5 seconds – particularly when you’re going through a rough patch in life, and it feels like there’s nothing to be happy about.
But the Garden of Gratitude taught me that the secret of happiness, and to building gratitude, is to acknowledge every source of good we have, however small it may be.
It starts with the basic stuff like being able to breathe; or walk, or use your hands, or being pain-free.
Remember when you get a cold, and then even the act of breathing gets difficult? Remember how great it feels when all the snot clears up and you can breathe easy again? Bliss! And a source of gratitude that most of us have, most of the time, if we only make the effort to register it.
The good life is made up of small pleasures
Ditto for those small pleasures that actually make a huge difference to our quality of life, like having a comfy bed to sleep in; or running water, or a hot shower.
A few years’ back, we’d just moved into a house that had huge problems with the heating system. It took two weeks’ to fix, and it was the middle of the winter, which meant a few days of only being able to wash in cold water, or having to take a shower at a neighbour’s. When that particular problem got fixed, I was so grateful every time hot water gushed out of the faucet – and I still am!
Other things we could easily be grateful for could be a great cup of coffee; a good night's sleep; an amazing conversation with a friend or someone else who loves us; a paycheck; a place to come back to at night; something delicious for supper; a smile or hug from someone we love – I’m sure you’re getting the idea.
At the end of every day, spend a couple of minutes trying to thank God for all the amazing kindnesses He did for you today.
Practical tips on how to do a gratitude journal
If you want some more help with starting a gratitude journal, check out this article by Robert Emmons, author of Gratitude Works:
Here's the basics:
- Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
- Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
- Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
- Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
- Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
- Don’t overdo it.
In the next posts, we’ll take a look at what you can do emotionally and physically to get the gratitude flowing again.