A few weeks ago, in the midst of a hectic day of holiday shopping, I came across some Thanksgiving decorations on final clearance and recognized that I was definitely not thankful for the long lines and list of things to do. But as I waited in that line, I had time to reflect on the importance of gratitude and how it might actually help with the stresses of the season.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and research shows it is helpful for our overall health and well-being, both physically and mentally. Focusing on and expressing gratitude helps improve our relationships, increases our attention to positive thoughts and actions, and builds resilience. As a therapist working with kids and parents in the Washington, DC area, I know we can all use those qualities at this time of year! So I started thinking about how to extend the practice of gratitude into our daily lives. Below are 6 steps to begin practicing more gratitude:
1. Set an intention
Have you ever been in the market for a particular car, and suddenly seen it everywhere? That’s because we tend to see the things that carry special interest for us. Start each day with the conscious decision to be on the look-out for reasons to be grateful throughout the day.
2. Stop and notice
Our brains are wired to solve problems – so it is much more natural to stop what we’re doing to address difficulties than to pause and be thankful for things, just as they are. Give yourself permission to pause and take note of the things that bring you joy, even in the midst of a tight deadline or a million errands.
3. Savor the moments
Research shows that you can increase the emotional impact of an experience by tuning into your senses. Let your attention linger on the sensation of a gentle breeze on your cheek, the satisfying click of your seatbelt engaging, the warm pressure in your chest when your child says “I love you.”
4.Use visual and mental cues
You can prime your brain for gratitude by giving it small and frequent reminders. You might decide to stop and ask “What am I grateful for right now?” each time you walk through a doorway or turn on a faucet; choose a photo of someone you’re grateful for and put it somewhere where you’ll see it often; or simply write “gratitude” on a post-it and stick it to your mirror or laptop.
5.Keep a gratitude journal
Writing things down supports learning and memory. A written record can also be a great source of encouragement on days it’s not so easy to feel grateful. Your “journal” doesn’t have to be a designated notebook, and you don’t have to make entries every day. For example you might add words or phrases to your calendar reflecting gratitude for aspects of the day, 2-3 times per week.
Telling other people what you’re grateful for can be powerful; and if you’re a parent, letting your child know the ways they delight you is an important way to support their developing sense of self, build your relationship, and foster their overall wellbeing. Be on the lookout for moments you find yourself smiling about them, and tell them about it.
I hope these tips lead to a happier, less stressful and more memorable year.