Part 2: Three Powerful Ways to Increase Gratitude in Your Life.

In part 1 of this series, we delved into the scientific ways that gratitude is good!

In part 2, we will lay out three super-effective exercises to increase your gratitude.

The next part of the series will explore how to expand the joy and gratitude you feel to more people. The last part is for artists—it explores how to integrate gratitude into your art practice.

How to Bring More Gratitude into Your Life

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” –Colossians 3:15

Convinced that becoming more grateful would be a good thing? Me too! Here are a couple of tried and true ways for anybody to increase their gratitude.

Start a Gratitude Journal (Spoiler: This is the big one!)

There are lots of techniques to do this exercise, and all of them are right! You can:

  • Keep a little notebook in your pocket and jot down things you are grateful for throughout your day. Review them before you go to bed.
  • At about the same time every day, write down three things that you are grateful for that happened in the last 24 hours. According to Harvard researcher Shawn Achor, if you do this for at least 21 days, it will train your brain to look at the world differently.
  • Spend 5 minutes before you go to sleep recalling and writing down things you are grateful for.

What Makes it Work?:

  • Small or Large—It doesn’t matter the size of the example. It could be birdsong in the morning, the smell of your coffee, or landing a better job. What matters is that you are, more and more, scanning your life for things to be grateful for.
  • New—Record new things each day. The goal is not to write down the same five things you’re thankful for but to recognize that there are innumerable things to be grateful for on any given day.
  • Specific—Generalities don’t cut it. Rather than be grateful for “good food,” you might record gratitude for, “An amazing hamburger at lunch that reminded me of the way my Dad used to grill them.”

The payoff:

One study (Happier Human, 2018) found that a 5-minute-a-day gratitude journal habit increased long-term wellbeing and happiness ten percent! For as long as this practice continued, participants also reported:

  • 8% more sleep
  • 10% less physical pain
  • 16% fewer negative physical symptoms
  • 19% more time exercising
  • 25% increased sleep quality
  • 30% less depressive symptoms

Find the Silver Linings

Most people have difficulties big and small through any given day, month or year. There can be a massive difference in how people think about those difficulties. Are they impossible obstacles? Or puzzles to be solved? Will you be a Tigger, an Eeyore, or something in between? Are you Lucy or Charlie Brown? When reviewing your day or your week, challenge yourself to find the good things hidden within the difficulties—the silver linings in the storm clouds. Write your thoughts down in your gratitude journal.

Example: I lost my job.

Silver Lining: I would never have chosen to lose my job, but it was also never well suited to me. I was bored by the 2nd year and can’t remember the last time I had a real challenge there. I have grown both personally and in my skill set since I began five years ago. I didn’t have the energy or motivation to (pick one):

  • get training to leverage into a better job.
  • find a job that would interest me and challenge me more.
  • consider what I could build on my own.

Now I have an urgent reason to consider what I want my next chapter to look like.

Next Steps:

  • Consciously think through how I want to spend my work time. 
  • Can I make enough money to live on by doing that?
  • Make a plan for how I get from here to there.

What Makes It Work?

  • Take the thinking time you need to work through the problem and come to reasonable, accurate, and helpful conclusions.
  • Avoid platitudes and cliches. Go more in-depth than that.
  • Actually write it down.

The payoff:

This exercise encourages you to think about difficult issues regularly and deeply. The goal is to find real positives for yourself within them. With consistent success, your brain will start to wire itself to realize (more) automatically that difficulties can also be opportunities. The exercise builds resilience, a critical skill for bouncing back after hard times.

Gratitude Bathing

Think of a positive experience. It can be from any time in your life. It can be small or large, a timely text or a memorable family dinner, or a walk in the woods. Make a list of everything you can remember about it. Set a timer (somewhere between 2 to 5 minutes) and keep thinking about the experience and writing your list until the timer goes off.

Experience: I connected with an old friend on a social media site.

What I Remember:

I was sitting at my desk looking through my social media and saw I had a friend request.

I was surprised and happy to see her face.

It brought back a rush of memories of when we saw each other every day.

I especially enjoyed remembering how we would hold hands and sing at the top of our lungs at recess on the playground.

I noticed that her daughter looks a lot like I remember her.

It was so lovely to read her first note to me about how she thinks of me often.

In all her photos, she and her family look so happy!

Reading through her social posts shows me that we still enjoy a lot of the same things.

We have been texting, and the conversation feels so familiar.

What Makes It Work?

  • It has to be an experience, not an object. Something you did, not something you have.
  • Repetition. Do it for at least 21 days in a row. With repetition, this exercise helps shift the way your brain perceives the world. If you are resistant, consider that it takes about the same amount of time as brushing your teeth!

The Payoff:

Your brain treats “meaningful experiences” differently than it does other memories. For your mind, remembering these meaningful experiences is the same as having the experience for the first time. Each time you remember them, the neural imprint on your brain deepens.

**Important Note** Use this for POSITIVE meaningful experiences. We all have plenty of negative meaningful experiences, and ruminating on those inflates their neural imprint, too.

Don’t forget that there are three more parts to this blog:

If you can find ways to integrate these small Gratitude Exercises into your life, the rewards can be enormous!

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