5 (Real) Ways To Practice Gratitude That Don't Feel Hokey Or Fake

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5 (REAL) Ways to Practice Gratitude
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How to practice gratitude so that it doesn't feel like a platitude.

When gratitude is promoted, especially during this season, does it bring up all the ways in which you feel ungrateful? Or when people wish you joy and peace, do you feel puzzled if you're surrounded by chaos and stress? 

Does it make you feel guilty that you're not more grateful, that you don't have a gratitude journal, or you don't do the next gratitude fad going down the street? There are so many questions on what is gratitude — real gratitude — and I want to try to give you some real answers.   

I sometimes feel like that so I totally understand. But here's the thing: having a gratitude practice has been shown through studies by numerous researchers, gurus, authors, and so much more (you can Google it if you don't believe me) to have myriad benefits on your health and relationships. So...it's kind of important.

If you're a skeptic, it's easy to roll your eyes and wonder how being grateful for having heat, a healthy hot meal, or running water will help you deal with the meeting with your boss at 8am sharp. It won't change anything you think. It won't make a difference.

So what's the point of gratitude? Gratitude helps improve your health, it increases resilience to stress, it helps improve mood and overall happiness, it increases life expectancy, among many other things. 

So who doesn't want to feel happier? It's one of the reasons people make the dreaded New Year's resolutions: if we do X (lose weight, get organized, get a new job, etc.), we'll finally be happy.  

Here's the thing: if you practice gratitude, your happiness may not be conditional upon accomplishing those often elusive goals. Brené Brown explains that those who live a wholehearted life (believe they are enough no matter how productive they are and have the courage to be imperfect) have a gratitude practice.

How do we integrate it into our lives so that it is a practice and not something we berate ourselves for not doing? Here are 5 ways:

1. Get real with yourself about how it feels when you acknowledge your gratitude. 

For me, it feels like for a moment, everything in the world is ok and right. There is a warmth that washes over me with a feeling of contentment. 

What does it feel like in your body when you are content in the moment? Do your shoulders relax? Does your stomach stop doing backflips? Identify the feeling in your body and then do the next thing.


RELATED: 5 Small Things To Be Grateful For, Even When Life Is Getting You Down


2. Notice when you feel gratitude during your day or your week. 

For me, these are fleeting but amazing moments that I string together to build my gratitude practice, like Holiday lights on a wire —they are strung together to make something beautiful.  

For me, the moments that stand out and produce the aforementioned feelings are:

  • When I see something stunning in nature: Like a sunset, a beautiful array of clouds, when snow has fallen and everything is quiet, the way the sun makes the ocean water sparkle...I know I feel grateful because I want to store that image in my mental photo album. 
  • Parenting joy: When I see my son asleep in his bed looking totally at peace or when I see him improve or master a task he's been working on, there is nothing like that feeling for me.  
  • Professional successes: The minutes or hours when things are clicking and progress is being made, I feel truly alive, effective, and honored to help others make strides to improve their lives. 
  • Personal triumphs: The feeling when I finish a hard workout that is high on my list and the feeling after finishing a difficult assignment in graduate school.

These are a few of the categories that stand out strongly for me where I really feel those physical components of gratitude, where I want to relive the experience. 

3. Track those moments.

With our phones being so handy, you can even make a gratitude photo album on your phone to remind you of these moments in which you have gratitude. Some people have a gratitude journal, but that may feel forced or corny. 

Do it if you want, but if it doesn't feel good for you, don't. It's a trial and error thing and that is fine! Something that worked in the past may not work now or vice versa.

How else could you track the moments you want to relive? The moments you try to repeat or re-experience? For me, that's when I most notice and enjoy my gratitude.

Here are some other ways to track:

  • A gratitude jar (put slips of paper in and watch the stack grow)
  • Voice record your moments on your phone
  • A photo journal as stated above
  • Self-reflection time during your day 
  • A Pinterest board
  • A scrapbook
  • A regular conversation with a loved one or friend
  • A "thank you" note to someone 

RELATED: 5 Ways To Change Your Focus And Be Happy With Yourself Right Now


4. Give yourself permission to figure it out.

There is no right or wrong way to "do" gratitude. Find what feels right for you. It doesn't have to be like everyone else. It needs to fit you and work for you so that you can reap the benefits of your own practice. 

Give yourself time to connect with your body in those joyful moments to record what you feel in your body when your mind is happy or content. 

Plus, as I've said before, what you focus on expands. When you integrate this practice, you start looking for these moments. Then you start feeling them more and so on. It's a self-fulfilling positive feedback loop.  

You just have to start.  It doesn't have to be perfect. 

5. Understand that you won't feel this way all the time. 

Relinquish that expectation so you can let go of your resentment. Being "happy" is a condition that we think we need to chase to feel like we are living our lives right, and once we arrive, everything in our lives will be good. 

We won't have to worry, suffer, try so hard... you fill in the blank. But that's not how life is nor is it realistic. Life is full of ups and downs. 

We want to really focus in on the ups, and put an individual twinkle light on each up. Look for the ups, look for those moments. No one else may notice them but you. That is fine. The more lights you string together, the brighter your gratitude practice is. It builds on itself. 

When you don't expect your life to be shining like the sun 24/7, you will appreciate the moments that it is. There is your gratitude.  


RELATED: 5 Super Easy Ways To Be Thankful Even When Life Is Kicking Your Butt


Anya Surnitsky is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator.

This article was originally published at couragecompasstherapy.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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