Developing a Gratitude Practice
Developing a gratitude practice has been one of the best (and easiest) things I’ve done to help myself in my healing journey. It’s such a basic, simple concept that most of us overlook the power it has. In fact, according to a study from Ohio State University, we are hard-wired to focus on the negative (1). We all know that we can have a wonderful day, with one negative encounter with a co-worker, and all we focus on the rest of the day is that one negative, despite the hundreds of positives that we observed. It’s easier to focus on the bad; being mindful of the good takes effort! However, allowing that one negative to override all the good causes you to miss out on a lot, especially the chance to be happy.
Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. ~Charles Dickens
“Gratitude” has become a buzzword among self-help gurus and natural practitioners, but the benefits of using it are backed by science. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003 found a link between conscious focus on blessings and well-being in daily life (2). Since we are biologically tuned in to the negative, and give it so much power over our lives and well-being, it really is a conscious effort to change our perspective. Here is how I developed this life-changing practice.
Start small. Start where you are and look around. What do you see that brings you joy? That you appreciate having in your life? What sound/scent brings you peace? It can be as simple as hot water, as touching as your child’s laughter, as silly as the man dancing in the street outside your cafe window. Being alive is a good place to start, always.
Set a timer on your phone throughout the day (there are also apps for this) to remind yourself to stop and observe all that is good in your life at that moment (and in general). The more times you do this in a day, the better! Remember, this is a practice, a habit that you’re forming. It takes 30 days to create a new habit!
Start a gratitude journal. I personally loathe journaling, writing in a journal – all of that, so I resisted this part for a while. Then I ended up with random sheets of paper all over the house documenting all I was grateful for, and I knew it was time. I bought a simple spiral notebook for €1 at Pagro and some thin markers (totally optional – I like color). Some people prefer a Word document, others use an app.
Take time each evening before bed and write down everything you were grateful for that day. If you were keeping track throughout the day (#2), then it will be easy to recall these details. If not, take time to think about all the good. In the beginning, I made a goal to think of 3 things each night. When that became easy, I increased it to 5. Now, I can fill an entire page within minutes. This doesn’t have to take long, I usually block out 5-10 minutes at the end of the day. Keep in mind this is a peaceful, positive practice. It shouldn’t feel like work or a burden or one more thing to do. Allow yourself to slow down and enjoy recalling all the good things in your life.
After a few days of practicing gratitude, I became much more aware of the good things all around me. When the U6 pulled into the station right as I reached the platform, I’d think, “Ooh I’m going to write this in my journal later!” When one of my students gave me a handmade drawing of flowers, I’d relish in the moment, and make a mental note to add it to my journal. When my dog lost his favorite ball in the snow and made a huge mess digging in the snow to find it, making me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants, I knew it would go in my journal that day. When my husband made a yummy dinner and my daughter cleared the table – yep – into the journal.
You can also use it in reverse. When I read about a friend’s dog being ill, I wrote how grateful I am that mine is healthy. When I see someone at the Karlsplatz station who doesn’t have a place to live, I am reminded how grateful I am to have my house. When I read about a family displaced by a house fire, I pay extra attention to how grateful I am to have clothing when hanging them to dry (a chore I do not like coming from a country with electric dryers). When I think back to how sad and alone and broken I felt when I first started my healing journey, I am grateful for my strength and determination, and the information and people who helped me along the way.
The more you concentrate on the good, the more good you will see. It really is incredible. It’s like you’re actively inviting more and more good into your life, because that is what you choose to focus on.
My favorite resources
This guided meditation is an excellent way to start every day with intent (just 10 minutes!)
Guided meditation with Deepak Chopra
A little gratitude motivation :)
TedTalk on gratitude
From Psychology Today
Gratitude for stress relief
And because I am always grateful for music, Natalie Cole’s Be Thankful...
(1) Negative Information Weighs More Heavily on the Brain: The Negativity Bias in Evaluative Categorizations, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1998, Vol. 75, No. 4, 887-900
(2) Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389
About the Author
Stacey Jobstmann is the Facebook manager and blog editor of U!Shine Vienna. She moved to Lower Austria from California in 2015 to marry the love of her life. She enjoys reading, playing with her dogs, running, and exploring with her family. She treated her PTSD from childhood traumas with a variety of methods, and hopes to support others in their journey. The most helpful to her was EFT (emotional freedom technique), Jung's shadow work, following a morning routine (The Miracle Morning), and following the principles of the Law of Attraction. Her favorite pages/people to follow are Karen Salmansohn, Brene Brown, and Bruce H. Lipton, PhD.