When a new year appears, the idea of implementing positive changes is generally not far behind. Changing our eating habits. Changing our exercise habits. Changing our spending or saving habits. You get the idea. When we are in the planning phase of deciding on changes to make, we often look at our poor choices made and negative experiences that occurred throughout the year. Trying to reverse the affects of poor choices, or feeling the need to start over, is generally how we look at each new year approaching. But why do we have to wait? Why are we making those poor choices or having so many negative experiences in the first place? The questions and reasons behind them are endless and likely based on individual circumstances, but what if we could make small changes throughout each year? NOT starting off a new year overwhelmed with all the changing we have planned may help facilitate our success and future success when a change is really necessary.
Some say that implementing positive change begins with the act of being grateful. Some say that expressing gratitude and even cultivating gratitude elevates feelings of happiness, allows us to become more resilient when encountering stressful situations, and helps us become more kind. In fact, Dr. Raja, assistant professor and clinical psychologist in the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago, has pointed out that, “Research suggests that individuals who are grateful in their daily lives actually report fewer stress-related health symptoms, including headaches, gastrointestinal (stomach) issues, chest pain, muscle aches, and appetite problems.”
So, if gratitude is the key to happiness and health, then how can we incorporate it into our daily lives? I’ve highlighted 5 very simple ways we can become more grateful.
1. Establish a daily regimen. Incorporating gratitude into our daily lives, will not only allow the expression of gratitude come more naturally, but it will serve as a constant reminder of all the things we can celebrate about our lives. Maintaining our awareness is so important. It takes no amount of effort to think negatively about something or someone. Having a negative mindset is the easiest mindset to have because it’s one we get stuck in the most. In my practice, I almost always have clients, who experience depression, start a gratitude journal. Many are shocked after their first entry. They had been in a negative mindset for so long, they had forgotten all the wonderful positives within their lives.
Keeping a journal doesn’t have to be a laborious task. Simply jotting down good things that happened that day, good things that happened the previous day (if you prefer journaling in the morning), or little details of the day that are often taken for granted and might go unnoticed (the sun shining, getting more steps in, lunch with a friend) is all that is needed to get started.
Epicurus told us long ago, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
2. Use visual reminders. Whenever we begin a new activity; one we want to make apart of our routine, follow through is often the hardest part of getting started. We’re just not used to engaging in the new activity. Using visual reminders can help us stay motivated as well as remain consistent. One very simple way of using visuals is to find your favorite inspirational quotes, print them off, and place them within environments you find yourself the most. If you’re on the crafty side, you could incorporate them into a craft/home project.
Another way to utilize visuals; especially when you have children would be to make a container (box, bin, jar) that will hold reasons you are grateful. Everyone can write a reason or two on a slip of paper and drop it in the container. Keep it in the busiest place in your home, and at the end of the week, you can review all the positives that took place throughout the week. Using a glass container would allow you to visually see how full it gets at the close of each week. Sometimes we lose perspective, having a visual to see that perhaps we have an abundance of positive happenings within our lives.
3. Be mindful of the present. More and more studies being published are revealing that our emotional structure thrives on change. We tend to adapt to situations and events that take place. This also often leads to taking things for granted. Our new televisions, clothes, cars eventually (and sometimes quickly) lose their appeal once they don’t feel new to us anymore. If we can be more mindful of the present, expressing regular gratitude may lead us to enjoying and appreciating our things and events more.
4. Become altruistic. Spreading kindness has never been a bad idea. It’s also a very easy behavior in which to engage. Giving a compliment, smiling at a stranger, or holding the door open are very simple ways to show kindness to others. Sometimes we don’t always see the result of these simple acts, but spreading kindness is often contagious causing those to who you were kind to spread a little kindness themselves. This promotes gratitude, not only for ourselves, but for others as well. Robert Emmons PhD, University of California and leading expert in gratitude research says , “When people are grateful, they’re motivated to become more outgoing, compassionate, altruistic, and generous.”
5. Re-frame. We already know focusing on negative aspects of our lives is easier than seeing the positive. Sometimes we nee to stop and re-frame our thoughts. For example, if I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and negative because my work weeks often consist of 65+ hours, I could stop myself and think, “How awesome is it that I CAN work? That I DO have a job? That folks are choosing me?”. Re-framing this way can turn those negative thoughts into instant gratitude. Re-framing this way may also lead to a clearer perspective and further problem solving solutions to manage added stress.
Practice really does make perfect, and anytime we embark on learning or incorporating something new within our lives, we MUST practice it consistently. Developing and expressing gratitude is no different.