Thanksgiving week always inspires lots of articles and posts about gratitude. There are photos of perfect-looking, big, multi-generational families (who has that family?) and stories from famous people about their Thanksgiving tradition of how everyone at their Thanksgiving table shares the thing they are most grateful for in the past year (which might be the single most effective way for me to ensure most of my family and friends would never return to my home for a meal). Those holiday traditions are fine, but I gave up the image of the (failed attempt) at Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving years ago.
Quite frankly, I suspect many of us, Thanksgiving aside, are not feeling particularly grateful much of the time. Like most worthwhile things in life; love, learning, health, etc., deep gratitude has to be cultivated. It takes time and effort.
Years ago when Oprah introduced the Simple Abundance book by Sarah Ben Breathnach to her fans, I started keeping a gratitude journal (aka, a notebook) and loved it. And then like with many impactful, good habits, I eventually got lazy and stopped doing it (see it takes time and effort in the previous paragraph).
Last year, a new friend talked about having recently begun keeping a gratitude journal and what a big impact it had on her. So I started again, writing down the things I was grateful for and was immediately reminded of how much day-to-day gratitude it reinforces. So now on most days, I’ll spend a few minutes at the beginning of the day reflecting on the previous one and writing down those things I’m most grateful for. Mostly I find myself grateful for the really simple things – fresh picked lemons from our lemon tree, hearing the coyotes howl at night as they get together in the hills near our house, or a long phone call with an old friend. What’s true for me is that the experience has heightened my experience of gratitude.
I’m not a gratitude expert, but I often ask my coaching clients to try gratitude journaling. It’s easy, it’s free, it works. But I’m also a big believer that the practice that works is the one that works for you. Interested in trying a gratitude practice? Try journaling at the time of day that works best for your schedule.
If you just won’t try journaling, here’s a few different approaches to consider:
The Gratitude Jar: Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and more recently Big Magic often talks about her Gratitude Jar. She writes down the one thing she is most grateful for each day and adds that note to her jar. She can look back on the notes if she wants. Another added benefit is that she can write these notes even when she’s traveling and add them to the jar when she gets home.
Social Media: If you prefer something more visual, you can try any number of things using photography or video. There are millions of posts to Instagram at #grateful, #gratitude, #365 grateful and on Pinterest under “grateful”. You could easily create your own page or post to these.
Though Shalt Give Thanks. The author, A.J. Jacobs outlined his gratitude experience in the book, The Year of Living Biblically. During the course of the year this non-religious, New Yorker decided to experiment and live his life according to the rules of the Old Testament (Yikes!). Apparently one rule is to be grateful. During the experiment he was saying thanks every day for everything and this lead him “to focus on the 100’s of things that go right every day that we totally take for granted” instead of the three or four that go wrong. He talks about this experience on a fun, recent episode of the James Altucher podcast. http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2016/08/aj-jacobs/
I have to admit as I type this last word, I’m feeling pretty grateful.