Grateful people experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better and even have stronger immune systems according to numerous research studies. However, it’s not always easy to find thanks and gratitude.
We are hard-wired to focus on negativity. And if you try to force yourself to stop thinking about your concerns, you just end up thinking about them more.
However, there are some simple things you can do to shift your attention, feel more gratitude and even rewire your brain for more positivity.
Here are 8 ways to find thanks and gratitude
1. Focus on this moment – not on what occurred in the past or what might occur in the future, but just on what is present right now. Be aware of your breathing. Sense your body. Then, look around until you notice something interesting. Focus on it for a full 60 seconds. Notice the details – the colors… the shapes… the texture… What is most interesting about it? Take a deep breath and notice how you feel in this particular moment. You might be surprised by what occurs.
2. Notice some simple things in your life that you tend to take for granted or overlook. Let your attention linger on some of the little things you appreciate – the taste of chocolate, the warmth of your coffee, the color of your socks, or the softness of your sweater. Forget majestic sunsets and things you think you’re supposed to appreciate but can’t. Sometimes it’s easier feel pleasure in the little things than the big ones.
3. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would a good friend. You deserve it. No one beats you up worse than you do. Stuff a sock in the mouth of that mean voice for awhile and be a friend to yourself, make some chicken soup, and be your best friend.
4. Connect with a friend. You might think you’re supposed to slink off by yourself if you can’t be fun to be with. But sharing how you’re really feeling with someone who cares about you can take the pressure off, and gratitude arises as a result.
5. Thank others. Thank the grocery clerk who checked you out. Thank the person who took your ticket to the movies, the parking lot or the subway entrance. There are a lot of people providing service for you on a regular basis. Take time to thank them, even if you’re not feeling thankful in the moment, and you might be surprised to find gratitude naturally arises.
6. Give something back. Give to a charity. Volunteer for a non-profit. Pay a visit to someone who is ill. Act as if you are thankful, and you’ll find gratitude actually does begin to arise.
7. Recognize joy and gratitude in others. The picture in this article is of my son who had just summited Nevado Champara in Peru. While his climbing causes me stress and concern at times, I can’t also help but notice and appreciate how much joy and gratitude he experiences. And when I connect with that, I experience gratitude as well.
8. Make a gratitude list. Write down 3-5 things you are grateful for at the end of the day. They can be simple things like when someone smiled at you. The act of writing them down highlights them and anchors them in your consciousness. Some people keep a gratitude journal. If you’re on social media, check out #100daysofgratitude to see what kinds of things others are listing.
What if it doesn’t work?
If you’ve tried these tips and gratitude is still elusive, don’t try to force it. Life is not static. Eventually things will begin to shift. Meanwhile, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Sadness, anger, and fear are normal human states. When you suppress your feelings, they fester. However, remember there’s a difference between feeling your feelings and acting them out (e.g. yelling at someone angrily or honking your horn in annoyance). Some people find it is easier to connect with their sadness or anger when they are alone. If that is true for you, then find a private place to yell and cry.
When things do begin to shift, pay attention and notice what’s happening. Ask yourself if there might something you are grateful for now. It is possible to find thanks and gratitude even during stressful times. But if you become stuck in a state of depression over a long period of time, it is important to seek professional help.