Is your life filled with gratitude? This time of year it’s especially easy to get swept away by the busy-ness of life. It’s ironic how during a season that’s supposed to be marked with thanks and giving, we get so wrapped up in activities that are so focused on consuming like shopping and eating.
Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not on some high horse here. I’ve been guilty of this practice too—especially when it comes to stuff I truly don’t need. I’ve recently started a project to clean out all the closets in my house, and I’ve been shocked by all the things I’ve accumulated.
What can you do? While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, here’s my plan. I’m going to try to shift my thinking this holiday season and begin with an attitude of gratitude. In fact, I’m committing to a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. Why? Let me explain.
What is gratitude and why is it so important?
I’ve talked about gratitude before. In fact, I even shared a post about it last year. My interest in the topic, however, goes back several years to when I joined a book club focused on learning more about positive psychology—the scientific study of what makes people happier, increases their sense of well-being, and improves their overall life satisfaction. And guess what? All the research points to an attitude of gratitude as being an important thread in living a good life.
So what is gratitude and why is it important? Here’s a great quote from Psychology Today that sums it up well:
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants. Gratitude is getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.
Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? Then why is it so hard to live a life filled with gratitude? Let’s learn the secret!
Want to be happy? Be grateful!
Now I may have lost some of you already. After all, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and there’s tons of stuff to do. I get it. But if you’re really interested in the topic here’s a great TED talk by David Steindl-Rast entitled, Want to be happy? Be grateful. If you’re in a rush, come back and view it later. Also, I’ve shared below my thoughts on 4 of the best insights and quotes from his talk. Just make sure you don’t skip my 7 Simple Tips for Living a Life Filled with Gratitude at the end of the post!
4 Insights and Quotes from David Steindl-Rast’s TED Talk entitled, Want to be happy? Be grateful:
- It’s not happiness that makes us grateful. Rather, it’s being grateful that makes us happy: “What is the connection between happiness and gratefulness? Many people would say, well, that’s very easy. When you are happy, you are grateful. But think again. Is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything that it would take to be happy, and they are not happy, because they want something else or they want more of the same. And we all know people who have lots of misfortune, misfortune that we ourselves would not want to have, and they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness. You are surprised. Why? Because they are grateful. So it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.“
- Gratefulness happens when you’re given a gift that you value, and it’s truly a gift: “…what do we really mean by gratefulness? And how does it work? … [Gratefulness happens when] something is given to us that’s valuable to us. And it’s really given. These two things have to come together. It has to be something valuable, and it’s a real gift. You haven’t bought it. You haven’t earned it.You haven’t traded it in. You haven’t worked for it. It’s just given to you. And when these two things come together, something that’s really valuable to me and I realize it’s freely given, then gratefulness spontaneously rises in my heart, happiness spontaneously rises in my heart. That’s how gratefulness happens.”
- Being grateful is usually as simple as stopping, looking, and appreciating: “How can each one of us find a method for living gratefully, not just once in a while being grateful, but moment by moment to be grateful. How can we do it? It’s a very simple method. It’s so simple that it’s actually what we were told as children when we learned to cross the street. Stop. Look. Go. That’s all. But how often do we stop? We rush through life. We don’t stop. We miss the opportunity because we don’t stop. We have to stop. We have to get quiet. And we have to build stop signs into our lives… And when you stop, then the next thing is to look. You look. You open your eyes. You open your ears. You open your nose. You open all your senses for this wonderful richness that is given to us. There is no end to it, and that is what life is all about, to enjoy, to enjoy what is given to us.”
- Gratefulness can transform each of us and the world by shifting our approach from one of taking more and fearing more to a sense of having enough and sharing more: “There is a wave of gratefulness because people are becoming aware how important this is and how this can change our world. It can change our world in immensely important ways, because if you’re grateful, you’re not fearful, and if you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people, and you are respectful to everybody, and that changes this power pyramid under which we live.”
7 Simple Tips for Living a Life Filled with Gratitude
If you believe David Steindl-Rast, becoming more grateful is as simple as Stop. Look. Appreciate. What I’ve learned, however, is that creating those stop signs can be a real challenge. So here are some simple tips I’ve learned that can help get you on a better path!
- Use technology to your advantage. Technology does a great job of disconnecting us and keeping our heads down by looking at our phone versus having our heads up and soaking up this amazing world. But you know what? We can use technology to retrain our brain. Set some reminders on your phone to stop, look, and appreciate. I’ve added these “appointments” all over my calendar, and while it doesn’t always work, they’ve helped me make a conscious effort to stop and create mindful, mini-moments for gratitude!
- Recruit a buddy to help you out. Connection is another core principle of positive psychology, and it can really help when establishing a gratitude practice. Enlist a friend or family member you enjoy being with and encourage one another. Perhaps you text each other daily “I am grateful for” thoughts, or you schedule time for regular nature walks. There are tons of ways you can help each other out, and it’s always more fun to change when a friend is helping you out!
- Create more opportunities for gratefulness, Let’s face it, if you’re sitting home alone watching tv, even if you take a moment to stop, look, and appreciate, your world is going to be pretty narrow. So get out and create more opportunities for gratefulness. Volunteer for a charity. Go for more walks. Get out in nature. Shop the farmers market. The possibilities are endless!
- Keep a gratitude journal. I have several friends that keep a gratitude journal and swear by them. It can be as simple as getting a notebook or diary to write down your thoughts. I even have one friend who swears by the 5 Minute Journal, which seems really cool. Unfortunately, the journal thing has never been my strong suit, but I have found another way. I use an app called Day One where I journal my grateful thoughts plus a whole lot more. To make it even easier, I often use the dictation feature on my iPhone (it’s that little mic button on your iPhone’s virtual keyboard) to “write down” my thoughts using the spoken word. This really has helped me turn a corner in my gratitude practice!
- Stop and reframe. If you’re like me, complaints and negative thoughts can sometimes seem like the norm of what’s going on in my head. Using the same principle of “stop,” take a moment to change the negative thinking and reframe your complaint. For example, if you’re thinking, “I’m tired of all the chores around the house” discover gratitude by reframing the thought into, “I’m thankful for having a home.”
- Pass it on! Gratitude is contagious! Whether it’s with co-workers, friends, or family, gratitude is contagious. If you’re a parent you’ve heard the advice before … “Catch your kids doing something right.” Well, being grateful with those around you works the same way. Stop. Look for special, little things a person may be doing, then express appreciation! 1-2-3, it’s that easy! And once you’ve done it several times, more often than not the gratitude starts to build. But even if it doesn’t, realize that you’ve shared your appreciation as a gift with no strings, and you’ll feel better. I promise!
- Commit to a 30-day Gratitude Challenge! I’ve done this before, and I’m doing it again this holiday season. Why? It makes me feel happier. I know to some it may seem counter-intuitive, but taking breaks and stopping time to be grateful is powerful. Want another reason to take a 30-day challenge? They say it takes 21 days to start a new habit … so hopefully 30 days will do the trick and help kick off a lifetime of gratitude in your life!
Are you ready to lead a more grateful life?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on gratitude. Have you tried a gratitude practice before? How did it work? Do you have any suggestions for others who are trying to live more grateful lives? Share your comments below, and thank you for stopping by. I sincerely appreciate you checking out my blog!