Practicing Gratitude

In honor of the Thanksgiving Holiday tomorrow in the United States, I thought I’d change up my usual Webinar Wednesday post and write instead about something that should be our focus all year round, not just this week: Practicing Gratitude.

Gratitude is one of those things that most people know the definition of, but they are far less familiar with how to put it into practice, or the power that is unlocked when you do.  A dictionary definition of gratitude is “The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”.  Around this time of year, you start to see an uncountable number of challenges on Facebook, prompting you to post one thing each day you are thankful for.  It might be a nice gimmick, but that is not practicing gratitude…not to mention it annoys the crap out of many of us who are tired of seeing these cookie-cutter “I’m grateful for”posts followed immediately by a complaint/rant/political posts from the same people invading their Facebook feeds.

What kind of advantage does practicing gratitude give us in life?  According to science, practicing gratitude on a regular basis can help us be happier and have increased mental health, along with all of the physiological effects that accompany better mental health.  Better health, less stress and greater happiness?  Someone please explain to me why we tend to only think about gratitude on one day a year?!

So how can you get started practicing gratitude on a more regular basis?  Just like with any change of habit, it takes time and practice.  But the good news is that the changes are relatively small, and they can be made incrementally.  The advice website Unstuck gives nine tips for practicing gratitude:

  1. When you think about your world on a day-to-day basis, start from a place of gratitude.
  2. Record things you are grateful for, either on paper or in digital form.
  3. If you come across a situation or a person who has a negative trait, make a mental switch to appreciate something else about that situation/person.
  4. Having gratitude requires having humility, which can be a great strength in your personal and, to a certain extent, in your business life.
  5. Give at least one compliment to someone every day.
  6. When you are in a bad situation, ask what you can learn from it.
  7. If you have a bad mental habit like gossiping, criticizing or just being negative (about yourself or about others), vow to stop for at least ten days.  It will help you appreciate how much more time and energy you have when you aren’t engaging in those damaging habits.
  8. Make an effort to sound genuinely happy when you converse with people.  Not the fake used-car-salesman happy that everyone can see through from a mile away, but genuine happiness.
  9. Become involved in a cause you care about, whether its a donation of time, talent or money.

One common critique of practicing gratitude is the false charge that being grateful for what you have will lead you into complacency.  I believe that this comes from the tendency many people have to associate gratitude with meekness.  The idea is that you can’t be truly grateful for something if at the same time you want to change it.  This is a load of baloney.  Just because you are practicing gratitude doesn’t mean that you need to be stuck where you are; for example being grateful for being employed doesn’t have to stop you from pursuing professional development opportunities or seeking to expand your professional horizons.  You can still fight for justice or other causes you believe in while being grateful for what you do have.

So I would encourage everyone to take a bit of time every day to practice gratitude, even if it’s just giving a smile to a stranger in the elevator, or paying for the coffee of the person behind you at Starbucks, or taking a minute during a stressful day to list what you are grateful for.  It will help put you in perspective to look at situations with a less emotion-filled lens, which is not only good for your mental health but is also good for solving the problem that caused the reaction in the first place.  Once you start doing this, it’s amazing how much lighter your load will feel.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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