For the month of July my Healthy Habit was gratitude. Each day I focused on the things in my life for which I am grateful, and I did my best to post about it everyday, but I missed a few here and there. This habit has been, by far, my favorite and my most successful. After just a few days in, I found that my thinking had changed, and that I was much more optimistic. When things were good, I took the time to recognize that I was fortunate that they were. And when situations were bad, I found that looking for something, anything, to be grateful for in the situation, made the bad not so horrible as I thought at first glance.
I read a lot about gratitude, and there seemed to be a lot of blog posts out there that talked about it during the month. It was inspirational to read what others think about gratitude and what it means to them. What gratitude means to me is thankfulness, being able to count my blessings and notice the small things that I often overlook, or take for granted. It means shifting focus from what I am lacking to what I already have, which really is an abundance. It means learning to be thankful for all the things that I am given, and giving up the sense of entitlement that I have often felt. Gratitude means changing my perspective, finding the good in every situation.
Research has shown that the practice of gratitude improves the quality of life. It makes people happier, reduces stress and encourages simplicity. I found all of those things true as I took time to acknowledge the things for which I am thankful.
If I were to teach someone how to live in gratitude, these are the things that I would emphasize:
- Be intentional. Look for things to be grateful for. Depending on the day and the situation, this can be easy or difficult. When things are going well, and life is good, it is obviously easier to see things in a positive way. Finding gratitude in difficult situations is harder, but there is always something there to be thankful for. My AA sponsor has had me practice this for as long as I can remember – whenever I am down, angry, upset, or depressed, she has me come up with at least a few things that I have to be grateful for. Doing so has never made my situations worse, they have always gotten better when I take time to be grateful.
- Don’t focus on what you don’t have. We live in a society that values ‘more’ and ‘better’. More money, more friends, better homes, better cars, more things. Focusing on those things keeps us from being thankful for what we have. For the past month, I have paid attention to the fact that while I don’t have a long list of friends, or a huge bank account, I do have quality, intimate relationships that I wouldn’t give up for anything, and I have enough money for the things I really need. Keeping those things in mind keeps me from suffering from unnecessary worry about what I don’t have.
- Be humble. Humility and gratitude go hand in hand. A humble heart finds thankfulness and satisfaction in the gifts that it already has. It demands less from others and from life itself.
- Write it down. When I write my gratitude list (which I will continue to do in my journal, now that July is over), and I can go back and look at what I was grateful for yesterday, last week, last month, it reminds me of what I have to be grateful for today. There is also something about writing it down, or typing it, that gives it more meaning…it substantiates the feeling. Give it a try, I promise this is true.
I have been amazed at the difference that the simple act of being grateful can make. Overall, when I practice gratitude, I am happier and I worry less, I realize that I have everything I need, and I am able to give more of myself to others. All it takes is finding a little bit of thanks in every situation.