How to cultivate more gratitude
Cultivating gratitude is something I've done for quite a while now. I know it sounds kinda cheesy and perhaps a touch American to be thankful or blessed about everything but stick with me.
I've never been ashamed to tell people that I sometimes get struck down by anxiety/depression and the reason I began doing this practice was because of the countless research backing up claims that daily gratitude is super powerful in boosting your wellbeing.
Want to sleep better? Practice gratitude. Want to feel less stressed? Gratitude. Want to have lower blood pressure? Yup, gratitude. Want to feel happier? You got it, gratitude. Want to be a better lover? .. I imagine there’s probably a paper that says being more appreciative will do it.
“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”
Honestly, a simple search can find a plethora of health benefits and it’s even been said to make you a better friend and partner.
I know what you're going to say - 'oh that's easy to be thankful if you're one of those people who looks on the bright side of life'... but whoa there friend. Yes, it’s easier if you’re more optimistic to look for the good stuff but the truth is, it’s even more important to practice this stuff when life gets a rough.
The key to practicing gratitude is to look for the little things. Become mindful of the nice things around you. Yes it’s pretty straight-forward to be appreciative for a promotion or finishing a project but it’s much more powerful to be grateful for the person who gave up their seat on the train for you or the stranger who stopped the bus long enough for you to get on (I live in London, these public transport gestures of kindness mean a lot clearly). Or maybe it was a beautiful sunny day or perhaps something unexpectedly made you smile.
The great thing is gratitude is like a muscle the more you practice the easier it becomes.
Here are my top tips for growing your gratitude:
1. Wake up to the good stuff - make a conscious decision to look for the good in the world. Look for the smaller details as if you were going to describe it to someone. The more you can build up a mental picture the easier it’ll be to recall it later. Where are you? How are you feeling? What are you wearing? Allow yourself to feel happy in these moments. Appreciate the good feelings!
2. Keep switching it up. We can, for the most part, always be thankful for our loved ones or our pets or the fact that the sun continues to rise every day. But challenge yourself to think of new things regularly. Don’t always go for the obvious.
3. Appreciate that every person, good or bad, is a chance to learn something. Again, too easy to appreciate your best friends, they’re the ones who’ve got your back no matter what. It’s much harder to see the good in meeting people who are quite frankly, just not your people! But there will be something you can learn about yourself in situations that are more challenging. Instead of having an external reaction to the trigger, take a moment to think about why that person is triggering such a reaction? Maybe there's something in them that's an aspect of yourself you don't like. The reason we have reactions to things is because we haven't been allowed to express these feelings so instead we internalise them. If we can be conscious to this then we can release ourselves from this. It's no easy feat for sure but try and think about that next time a member of your family pushes your buttons. And if that sounds too deep then thank them for allowing you to cultivating more positive reactions to things is also going to improve your happiness e.g. learning how to keep a cool head, reflect bitchiness with grace or building patience. Start seeing your mates girlfriend who winds you up in a different light and thank her for being a teacher in your life. (This one is very hard.)
4. Appreciate the good things about yourself. No this isn’t an excuse to let your ego run wild but if you find that your inner voice is set to ‘mean bitch’ then this is your chance to tell to kick it into touch for a minute and give yourself some appreciation. Maybe you’re a great listener? Maybe you’re a great story teller? Maybe you’re the person who always makes the tea at work and doesn’t mind. If giving yourself a full on complement is too difficult it’s alright to just think about a quality in yourself that you think is just OK and build up from there.
5. Keep a gratitude journal. This is a big one for me. I stopped keeping a regular journal and switched it up for a gratitude one last year. Every night before I go to sleep I record 5 good things about my dayt. If I’ve had a shit day then sometimes they’re just 1 sentence long each. Cultivating gratitude can even be used when we’re faced with grief. Studies found that a sense of thankfulness for what we have helped with the stress of loss. For example, Today I appreciate that I have a warm bed. Go for 3 if 5 feels too much.
Remember we don’t have to have a lot to appreciate what we have. Try it for a week especially if you’re facing a tough time right now and see for yourself if being more grateful makes an difference to your outlook.