There are some days when gratitude is simple. Maybe you got a raise, had a great vacation, watched your kid star in a school play, and other amazing experiences. Those occasions are awesome! Then there are times when you have to struggle to find gratitude. When that new raise requires you to work some weekends, you miss your plane or have an argument with your spouse -- "thank you" is probably not the words you're uttering.
There will always be bumps in the road, and it's natural to be concerned, frazzled, angry and annoyed. That's the part where I urge you to challenge yourself in finding gratitude! The lousy feelings and thoughts that come from irritating or unfortunate obstacles don't have to be swept under the rug though -- it's counterproductive to blow off your feelings. The theory in practicing gratitude is that eventually your brain becomes rewired to minimize those negative reactions and motivates you to pursue more positive encounters.
Many studies suggest that showing gratitude increases optimism and influences behavior. Some benefits include increased determination, better health (sleep, exercise, lower depression, etc.), greater confidence and more. Like most skills, gratitude needs to be practiced daily. The more you practice, the better you become and soon the benefits will prevail.
Here are three of my favorite exercises to strengthen that gratitude muscle. There are so many options besides these, so find a good fit for you, do your exercises daily and stay committed!
Gratitude journal. Every day, write down five experiences you're grateful for and be specific. If you struggle to find five items per day, push through the struggle and write all five! The struggle is where the magic happens. It's also important to be specific. Instead of listing your kids' names everyday, what is it about them that makes you feel particularly fortunate? Also, be sure to write down different experiences daily. Told ya it would be challenging. But it's worth it!
Daily compliments or appreciative statements: Genuinely compliment or show appreciation three times per day. With this exercise you want to go a bit deeper than polite or responsive "thank yous." For example, you can change a typical "thank you" to your morning barista to something like: "I really appreciate how well you make my lattes. They really make my morning!" I also count reviews, comments, letters, emails, etc. in this exercise. If you've been going to an excellent dry cleaner for a while -- leave a review or comment on their Yelp page or send them a letter. If you can't think of any genuine compliments you want to give on some days, you can praise things or nature. For example, "I really appreciate how close I live to the supermarket." There is always someone or something to be thankful for. (There are always at least three every day, actually!)
The gratitude jar. One of my superstar clients introduced me to this one! This is similar to a gratitude journal but you only need to write one experience per day and after one year you may open the jar to reflect on the amazing experiences you had throughout the year. Materials needed include a jar, slips of paper, pen and appreciative outlook!