"After expressing gratitude on paper, I felt lifted--lighter and happier."
"Studies suggest that a daily gratitude practice can increase happiness."
As a life coach, I’ve dedicated myself to seeking out the simplest solutions to common challenges that keep people from feeling happy. My coaching practice is built on the belief that we can all live happier, more fulfilling lives when we follow our intuition, stop censoring our true selves, and learn to see and feel how we are connected to everyone in the whole universe.
So, how do we learn to trust our gut, share our gifts and start feeling more connected? A daily gratitude practice is a great place to start. On a personal level, this simple practice has significantly decreased my own feelings of anxiousness, overwhelm, and general crabbiness. Professionally, my clients have reported that daily expressions of gratitude improves their mood, bring them into the present moment, and gives them a more optimistic view of their world.
Gratitude in Action
Yesterday I was sitting at one of my favorite restaurants waiting for lunch when I decided to check my email and discovered a message from my dad explaining he needed to cancel our plans for the next day. My heart sunk. He was disappointed and so was I. But instead of running from the sadness and putting on a happy face, I allowed myself to experience the feeling. "I love my dad, and he loves me. Plans had to shift and I am sad," I told myself. Instead of moving forward to quickly, looking for the opportunity that our canceled plans would bring, I wanted to spend a little time honoring the simple fact that sometimes best laid plans get canceled.
After sitting with the sadness for a few minutes, I decided to shift my energy using the same strategy I'd suggest to a client: A gratitude inventory! I simply wrote a list of everything I was grateful for: Dad didn't have any health problems, we would both make it a priority to reschedule, I was eating at my favorite spot where the staff was friendly and the music was awesome! I was grateful for the sunshine, the fun I had the day before with a wonderful friend, and the list went on.
After expressing gratitude on paper, I felt lifted--lighter and happier. This is why my clients, friends, and I love talking about and practicing gratitude. It's simple and impactful and it really works.
Recent studies suggest that a daily gratitude practice can increase happiness by 25 percent or more, and that being thankful (and not comparing yourself to others who have it harder) continues to add to our level of happiness.
The best way to understand how powerful this practice is is to try it out for yourself. Here are five simple steps to help you launch your daily gratitude practice.
1 – Make the Time
As with any new practice, you’ll need to commit to making time for it, and five minutes is all you need to start. Set your alarm clock five minutes early, add a reminder on your phone, or write a reminder on a Post-It and stick it on your bathroom mirror to set yourself up for a success!
2 – Choose Your Method
Be as creative as you want to here. Write in a journal, send a text to a friend (get permission first!), or even start a gratitude tumblr and add photos like one of my clients did. Keep it simple and don't feel you need to do it the same way every time. Experiment, have fun, there's no wrong way.
3 – Start Small and Stay Present
For example, "I am grateful for the warm socks on my feet, for hearing the birds chirp outside my window, and the soft sound of puppy snores." This brings to your attention the little joys in life. When people say "stop and smell the roses" or "live in the moment," this is the awareness they are talking about. When you live in the moment, you aren't living with the regrets or pain of the past or the unforeseeable and unpredictable future.
4 – Expand that Gratitude!
After you've practiced this for a few weeks you may feel you're rehashing old territory. Don't be disheartened; this is the perfect opportunity to find gratitude in unexpected places. Close your eyes, smell your breakfast, and find gratitude for your sense of smell! Think about the world you live in, what information you have access to. You can express gratitude for running water, the gorgeousness of blooming flowers, free wi-fi, and loving friends! These are just a few examples of how expansive you can get and how you can bring awareness to what is working and what is beautiful right now in your life.
5 – Be Gentle with Yourself.
This is a new practice so it may take a little time to become habit. No need to beat yourself up about it. If you forgot to text your friend in the morning, email her in the afternoon. If you didn't feel gratitude when you sat at your journal, make it simple: “I am grateful I have a gratitude practice.” Remember, there is no wrong way to do this!
Heidi Bennett is a Certified Professional Life Coach in Oakland, CA. She expresses gratitude every day and is especially thankful for her rescued Tibetan Spaniel, Poki, getting to ride her beach cruiser to yoga, singing with her brother in an old time bluegrass band, meeting friends for tea, and hosting barbecues with her husband.