Gratitude isn’t just about feeling thankful, it has been described by the ‘happiness experts’ as a deep appreciation. This distinction is important because this deep appreciation tends to have a longer lasting, positive impact on us. If you are spiritually inclined, gratitude practices are a way to ‘count your blessings.’
Why practice gratitude? Humans have what is called a negativity bias. That is, we don’t always notice the positive, the ‘good stuff’ that happens in our daily lives. Although we may not all be ‘Negative Nellies’, gratitude practices are the ticket to noticing this ‘good stuff’ and we can all benefit from taking note of the good! This can also help us shift our attention to what we have rather than the more common focus on what we don’t have.
You don’t have to be Pollyanna to see the positive side of caregiving that includes opportunities, deep meaning and purpose, growth, and positive emotions from satisfaction to sheer joy.
Unless you are repeatedly told by others that you need to dial down your gratitude, it is likely that you (and the rest of us on the planet) can benefit from introducing or increasing gratitude practices in your life. Gratitude has been heavily researched and the scientific jury gives a resounding thumbs up, associating gratitude with everything from lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol to increases in relationship and life satisfaction. All that and you don’t even have to pull out your wallet!
Below are some ideas about how you can consciously foster gratitude with its many benefits - and stir up curiosity in others about your secret to happiness!
Make a gratitude board. This can be as simple as a piece of paper with Gratitude Board written at the top or you can draw on your creative juices to make this into a piece of art (at last count, Pinterest had a gazillion gratitude board images). Posting this where you can see it will help you to focus on the positive. You can even foster good feelings between you and the person you are caring for by creating a board with them and committing to writing, each day, at least one thing about the other person that you are grateful for (what they did, said, and even what they didn’t say or do!).
Create a gratitude jar. This may be more appealing if you don’t want your gratitude to be for public viewing (‘though it is an amazing conversation starter…).Write down your thoughts and put them in a jar. Pick a time when you will review the contents.
Start a gratitude journal. This is teaching (rewiring) your brain to experience more gratitude. The more you notice, the more you will notice! As with all practices, it is most effective if practiced daily. Keep it interesting for yourself by not allowing repeats (well, okay, not many repeats!). Also, be specific, rather than general.
If you are one of those people who starts a practice and then lets it drop off after a few days, like most of us who create New Year’s Resolutions, think about how you can keep the motivation going. Perhaps you make an agreement with a friend to share your journal or board or jar, or you simply have someone dear to you hold you accountable to doing the practice. You can also write down your intention of maintaining your gratitude practice and put it somewhere where you will see it (writing down goals is the key to achieving them!). Feeling gratitude can become as natural as noticing what has gone wrong in your day used to be!
If you want to get all scientific about it, you can first take a gratitude quiz to determine a baseline of how grateful you are right now. Then, redo the quiz after 8 weeks of daily practice. Or, forget about redoing the quiz, and instead enjoy the greater sense of happiness you feel. Yes, we are that certain of the difference a gratitude practice will make for you!