Practicing Gratitude

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” —Oprah Winfrey

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar

Gratitude is often a word we hear thrown around near Thanksgiving time, but I think it is something we should talk about more often. Gratitude is more than just something related to turkey dinners.  Gratitude is being thankful and grateful for what is present in your life, rather than focused on what is missing.  Practicing gratitude can help change your perspective.  In one of my favorite books, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl writes,

“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes - within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”

Frankl is saying is our decisions, how we behave and what we focus on, then determines who we become.  Wouldn’t you rather become someone who sees possibilities, who believes in and looks for the good in the world, who can uplift another with a smile?  I know I would like to be this kind of person.

To practice gratitude on a more regular basis, why not start to keep a daily gratitude journal?  You can write 3-5 the things you are grateful for that day, or something that you are proud of yourself for accomplishing.  This can help shift your thinking from negative to positive, and help you to notice the good things in your life.  Try to think of things unique to the day, rather than repeating the same basic things like food or shelter.

I’m grateful I was able to have coffee with my friend today.

I’m grateful the kids slept all night in their beds last night.

I’m grateful that my spouse folded and put away the towels yesterday.

I’m grateful I have a job.

I’m proud of myself that I called and made a doctor appointment (even though I hate talking on the phone).

I’m grateful to have one kind neighbor who said good morning to me today.

It might initially be hard to come up with 3-5 things that are positive every day.  So, aim for one or two.  After that becomes easier, than increase to 3-5 things for every day.  To go a step farther, you can elaborate on these daily gratitudes by journaling more about your day, and how you feel.  Especially on days that are harder, journaling more might be a good idea to help you process your day.

For those of you who want more physiological details about how gratitude can shift our perspective, google and read about the Reticular Formation and Reticular Activating System (RAS). Basically, focusing on the positives rather than the negatives tells this part of your brain, responsible for conscious awareness and attention, that positive things are important to notice.

This increased attention applies to anything though, not just positive things.  For example, a few years back I was looking to getting a new car.  I was set on getting a Nissan Maxima, and because I told my RAS that these were important cars, I began to notice them everywhere I went!  It's not that all of a sudden there were more Nissans on the road.  They were always there.  Previously, my brain had just decided they weren't important to notice.  But, once I started researching them, my brain picked up on the fact that they WERE important to me, and I started to see them everywhere! Ah, the power of our brains!  (The neuroscience nerd in me loves this brain stuff!)

How can you express more gratitude in your daily life?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.