Lessons About Personal Growth

An Attitude of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving because it’s a holiday dedicated to my favorite things: food and family. It is truly a moment to pause and just BE PRESENT with those that are important to you. In the spirit of this week that is devoted to expressing thanks, I want to talk about what it means to adopt an “attitude of gratitude;” one that will extend past your turkey day festivities. Learning how to create a gratitude practice in your daily life can ultimately lead you to a more positive mindset that you can carry with you all year long. In this week’s post, you will learn what gratitude actually means, as well as some super helpful tips to guide you on your journey.

First, let’s start out by defining gratitude. The dictionary defines Gratitude as “the quality of feeling grateful or thankful.” I think when you ask most people what they are grateful for, they will quickly tell you things like:

  • My Partner
  • My Kids
  • My Family
  • My Friends
  • My Dog or Cat
  • My Job

The list could go on and on. But have you noticed that these things are BIG, important things in your life? While everything on this list should absolutely be acknowledged, learning how to have a grateful heart involves looking at things through a smaller lens. It wasn’t until a few months ago during a meditation session that I was introduced to what is called a “gratitude practice.” I was asked to focus on something incredibly small: maybe a car let me over in traffic, maybe someone held the door for me when I was rushing to catch the elevator, or maybe I had a really nice conversation with a friend that I was missing. At first, I thought this was cheesy. Really? If I have to look that hard for something so small then that’s clearly just me trying too hard to be some fake, positive person, right?

The lesson that I didn’t know I was actively learning is that gratitude is NOT something cheesy. It is something beautiful that can help you grow as a human being and see the world in a slightly brighter light. It’s easy to get bogged down by the negative; spend 5 minutes on social media or watching the news and you will be convinced that you should have no faith in humanity. Gratitude is something that you need in your life because it helps keep things in perspective. As humans, we are constantly looking to compare one piece of information to another piece of information so that we know how to interpret it. This helps us to develop our own frame of reference. Every single person has a frame of reference that is defined by the cumulative sum of their life experiences; no two will be the same. That’s also why we perceive some people as really positive or really negative because we are evaluating their demeanor through our own lens. The truth is that whether you define yourself as a positive person or not, you can begin to create a more positive frame of reference through daily gratitude.

To begin your gratitude practice, you first have to be in the right mental place. This has to be done when you have the time to pause and take a moment to fully immerse yourself in your thoughts. I often struggle with this because I am a task-oriented person, I love checking things off my to do list. I think it is really important to not evaluate this daily activity as just another item on your list that needs to be done as quickly as possible. For it to have meaning and value, it needs to have your uninterrupted and undivided attention. You can choose to have a few moments at the start or your day, in the middle, or at the end, but no matter what it should be fully devoted to focusing on gratitude.

The next step is choosing how to express your gratitude. Whether you choose to write in a journal, speak it out loud, or keep your thoughts to yourself, you should note 5 things that you are grateful for that day. These should not be your “big” things like your friends or family, but should truly be the small things like getting let over in traffic. Why is this so important? Because you are slowly training your brain to focus on searching for joy instead of finding the negative things. This will ultimately help redefine your frame of reference as you move through daily life. I’ll give you an example of my items of gratitude today:

  • The beautiful morning sky on my drive into work
  • My boyfriend rolling over half asleep to kiss me goodbye and telling me: “Have a great day, Beautiful.”
  • A moment to listen to a podcast that I really connected with and helped me feel inspired to be productive
  • The sweet dog that lives in my building that greeted me on my way out and made me smile
  • A shorter work day so that I am able to switch gears to prepare for my holiday

This may feel a little awkward at first, it definitely did for me. Honestly, it SHOULD feel awkward because you are starting something new and your brain is trying to learn. Habits do not happen after one attempt at anything, but rather are a result of gradual and consistent repetition over time. It’s okay if you have to think really hard about what you are grateful for, it will start to come to you more easily. Maybe at this point you are wondering why this actually matters? How many times have you had something small happen, maybe you spill coffee on yourself on your way into work or maybe you got cut off in traffic, a relatively minor inconvenience or frustration. But when someone asks you how your day is going, you say to them, ” I am having the WORST day, just awful.” When you actually tell them what happened, it adds up to maybe 5 minutes, yet you have given it enough weight and meaning to define everything about your day. We do this all the time without even realizing it. But if you can give the really yucky things that happen enough power to make or break your day, why can’t we do the same for the really positive things?

As the end of the year, nay, the end of the decade is rapidly approaching, what type of person and perspective do you want to bring into the next year? Ten years? What goals are you hoping to achieve? No matter what your specific goal may be, gratitude will be a key part of reaching it. Anything that is worth working towards will take time and dedication to get there. It will not happen overnight and let’s be real, if it did, it wouldn’t feel half as amazing to achieve. Gratitude can help keep you focused along the way. It will remind you of the small victories that move the needle forward and get you an inch closer. And trust me from experience, it feels so much better than putting yourself down along the way. My hope for you this week is that you have the most joyous holiday, full of gratitude and love. In this season where our spirits are often lighter, I want you to know that this feeling doesn’t have to show up just once a year. And most importantly, my wish is that you are able to see that while there is truly bad in the world, there is so much more that is truly good.