Some people avoid practicing gratitude because doing so feels “fake.” But, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s because any time we try something new, it’s going to feel awkward and unnatural. In fact, such reactions can be good, because it means you’re noticing and paying attention. If you can lean into the experience, you’ll be more likely to let go of your self-consciousness and take in the experience. Gratitude also might feel “fake” because we confuse it with sugar-coating. We assume it means pretending that challenges don’t exist. However, true gratitude is being honest with yourself and taking stock of your circumstances so you can respond healthfully. It is paying close attention to and recognizing what you have. It is awareness and acknowledgement for gifts we receive every day that keep us physically and spiritually awake and alive. Lionel Hampton defines it as “when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”
Here are helpful ways to practice gratitude.
- Acknowledge your “fresh bread.”
Rumi states “There is a basket of fresh bread on your head, yet you go door to door asking for crusts.” Gratitude is about acknowledging the “fresh bread” that you already have. Acknowledging what you have helps you internalize it and become nourished by it.
For instance, if you’re going through a difficult time, acknowledge it. At the same time, think of what has helped you survive; remember your inner strength, as well as the people and places that may have supported you. Practicing gratitude in this way can help you connect with the dignity of your circumstances, and remind you of the resources that you draw on.
- Linger over positive experiences.
See if you can hang onto the ‘positive aftertaste’ of an experience — a taste, a sight, a sound, a feeling — just a few extra seconds.
- Catch others being considerate – and tell them.
This is different from giving a compliment. Instead, it’s about telling someone specifically what you appreciate.
Examples are: You tell your child’s teacher, “Mary’s been working really hard on that project. We’re so glad to see her interested and engaged in your class.” You tell your spouse, “Honey, I really appreciate you having the kitchen so clean. It feels so nice to walk into a clean house after my long trip!”
- Practice together.
Share your gratitude with a loved one. Some people even do this by texting a gratitude list to one another daily, before going to bed.
- Focus on your breath.
Appreciate the ease with which you breathe, and that your breath sustains your life.
- Involve your kids.
If you have kids, teach them to practice gratitude as part of their bedtime routine. Example: Ask your child, “What was the best part of your day today?” After they respond, express gratitude about that part of their day, and then encourage them to do the same: “I’m so grateful that you got to play with your best friend at recess today! Wow, that’s great! What a treat for you! Are you grateful for that, too?”
- Avoid censoring yourself.
Give yourself permission to express gratitude for all sorts of things. Being grateful about trivial things can make the practice more real and enlivening.
If you are truly grateful for the undissolved sugar at the bottom of your iced tea, for example, be grateful. Practice being grateful for the things that are seemingly trivial – but wonderful – things: the cat jumping in your lap, a traffic-free commute, movies and popcorn, red maple leaves outside your window, getting the piece of cake with the most cream cheese frosting.
At first gratitude may feel like you’re “going through the motions.” But if you stick to your practice – even if it’s not “heart-felt” in the beginning, eventually it transforms into true gratitude.