Why You Should Develop a Daily Gratitude Practice
A daily gratitude practice is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It changed my life and I know it can improve yours.
I noticed some benefits within a couple weeks of starting this practice, but the main benefits showed up after a couple of months of working through this daily. Some have included:
- I spend less time thinking about past negative events. When I do though, I tend to focus on the silver linings.
- My average mood has improved quite a bit. This led to me doing more things that are good for me. This has turned into a sort of self-reinforcing cycle.
- I find myself procrastinating less on the menial tasks in life that previously I would put off doing, such as the dishes, sending an important email, and returning calls.
A daily gratitude practice is not a cure-all for low moods, though it has helped with mine.
I like to think of this daily practice as a tool for transforming my subconscious views into more productive ones over time. More on this later.
What you can be grateful for
Everything you can be grateful for falls into two buckets: what you have, and what you experience.
You can be grateful for having certain things, like a great meal, a nice car, or a beautiful painting.
You can also be grateful for experiences, like having a great vacation, an awesome date, or a fantastic workout.
Positives are easy to be grateful for. However, not everything in life is positive.
What about the objects and experiences that we don’t naturally feel grateful for?
How to be grateful for what you have
For everything you have, there are three ways to dial into gratitude.
You can be grateful for what it has allowed you to do, what it allows you to do now, and what you can do with it in the future.
The excitement of getting a new computer with a sleek look may feel nice, but it only lasts for a bit.
You aren't grateful for having a computer because of its physical characteristics. You are grateful for it because of what it allows you to do:
- Communicate with friends and family from a distance.
- Advertise a service you offer to people you wouldn’t otherwise reach.
- Access information that would be impossible otherwise.
Without awareness, gratitude will fade over time. At some point it may even be replaced with an attitude of taking things for granted.
To prevent that, consciously be grateful for what is important, and do this often.
This is particularly helpful in relationships when the honeymoon phase wears off.
How to be grateful for the hard times
Positive events only make up part of what will occur during your life.
The other type are the negative events, or the events that you wish didn’t happen. Like breaking up with someone, having a presentation go poorly, or going through depression.
When these events occur, it’s not instinctual to have feelings of gratitude for them.
After the events have passed, and you have given yourself a generous dose of self-compassion, you can look at the event from a different perspective.
Finding the silver linings in a negative event is the primary way to bring an attitude of gratitude to an event. This can be done in several ways:
For a past negative event, list the positive things that have occurred because that negative event took place. These positives include experiencing events you wouldn’t otherwise have had, and improving yourself as a person because you grew from the experience.
For a negative event that happened recently, or is likely to occur in the coming days, think of the potential future benefits from it occurring. This exercise can be a bit difficult at times. After all, you’re trying to avoid negative events. Not go after them.
- Ending a relationship isn’t an enjoyable experience. However, it gives you time to improve the characteristics you ignored during the relationship. This may include going on a solo adventure that you would not have been able to do had you been with that person.
- Getting rejected from a job sucks. However, it gives you the opportunity to bring depth to your life philosophy by adjusting how you view rejection.
A beautiful idea encompassed by Steve Maraboli is “Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good I was actually being redirected to something better.” If you can embrace this as part of your everyday perspective, you’ll have a much better time during the hard days.
My recommended daily gratitude practice
The daily practice I use is an extension of the ten things you’re grateful for practice.
Write down ten things you are grateful for, but make about half of them silver linings. These are also known as difficult gratitude problems.
Here are some examples from my own gratitude practice:
- I am grateful I joined a book club with the people I met during the summer. They have introduced me to new ways of thinking, and have provided me much comfort and companionship during these times.
- I am grateful for my little space heater.
- I am grateful for the ability to look at an experience with a different perspective than the one I first had of it.
- I am grateful I encountered James Clear's blog posts and book over the last several years. Literally life changing.
- I am grateful for the difficulty I had with coming up with ideas earlier in the day because that shows a weakness in my input process that I need to correct.
- I am grateful for the experience of an unproductive day. It contains the material used to fashion a better future.
- I am grateful that I had the experience of a pulled muscle in my back. It kept alive the importance of taking care of my physical body. It also reminded me to get up for walks much more often.
- I am grateful for the mistakes made when trying something different, because not knowing something works is just as enlightening as knowing what works. Often there may be a few ways that work well, but knowing what doesn't work improves our general understanding of a topic or situation.
- I am grateful for my vibrating alarm clock. It works pretty damn well.
- I'm grateful for book recommendations from people I don't know. They exist in a sphere of life that I usually haven't touched yet. So it's a bridge to a reality I did not think to encounter.
This practice shouldn’t take long. Likely five to ten minutes. Most of the time will be spent on the difficult gratitude problems, but over time you’ll get the total time down to around five minutes.
This practice is closely related to the idea that you can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control your response to what happens to you. Which is all you really can control.
What a daily gratitude practice can do for you
My theory is that if you can learn to be grateful for negative events then you can learn to be grateful for everything that happens.
You may not be grateful for what happens to you, but you can be grateful for the person you become, or for what it helps you achieve.
People who have experienced depression aren’t happy they went through it, or that people they know went through it. However, it’s people like them that start organizations to help people get through those experiences.
Going through a negative experience gives you perspective you can’t get otherwise. This puts you in the position to help people you wouldn’t be able to without it.