Gratitude isn’t only for when you’re already feeling happy, it’s a practice you can cultivate for every day, including the hard ones.
Expressing gratitude for what we don’t have
On a personal level, making gratitude a conscious practice has been a life changer. Growing up, I was a glass-half-empty kind of person. I had a tendency to compare myself to others and focus on faults. Technically, I had a very comfortable life, but I can’t say that I was a happy kid. But as an adult, I’ve experienced a shift.
I trace this change to something that I now call “happy mistakes.” For example, when plans fall through at the last minute, I can choose to see my newly found time at home as an equally enjoyable option. Or, like when I run out of an ingredient while cooking and have to make a last minute substitution – I frequently discover that the end result actually came out better than the original recipe!
You can even be grateful for what you don’t have any more. If you’re too busy at work, was there a time when you were bored and wished you had more challenging work? If you’re dealing with the chaos of moving, can you remember when you were tired of looking for housing?
Gratitude is a bridge to a better place
Reframing a situation as a “happy mistake” is a form of practicing gratitude. On a tough day, gratitude can give you perspective and keep you moving. It’s a bridge that takes you from the immediate challenge, up and out towards the future you are creating.
Yet, some people feel that their internal critic is the driving force that is key to their success.Seeing the positives won’t suddenly make you lazy! We can be driven, hardworking, and successful AND still be grateful. Trust that you can do both. Besides, what’s the point of achieving success if you’re miserable the whole way there?
If you’re really need the proof, there are countless studies, books, and articles that talk about neuroplasticity – the science that says we can train (and retrain) our brains. Actively acknowledging the parts of life that are working and are bountiful helps to offset our hardwired negative loop and helps us grow.
“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
― David Steindl-Rast
How can you start a gratitude practice?
If we can be grateful for these happy mistakes and curveballs, why not express thanks for the everyday things, people and circumstances that we take for granted.
No matter where you are in life, try out these three methods to start trying out gratitude today:
- Before bedtime, think of just one thing you are grateful for from the past 24 hours. It can be as small or as big as you want it to be. A refreshing glass of water, your pet’s affection, the security of your home, a new promotion, the list goes on!
- Had a bad day? Try parsing through the moment to see what you could learn from it. What can you do differently next time? Take some time to appreciate this lesson, maybe even celebrate it!
- Everyone has to eat! Doesn’t matter if it’s a packet of M&Ms or a 5-star meal – try savoring just one bite. What symphony of effort was required to bring you this food? What ingredients had to be grown, just for this moment to happen? Who worked hard to get this food into your hands?
Studies show that gratitude can serve as a key to contentment and inner peace. Life may be hard, but our suffering is optional. I invite you to create, cultivate, build on a practice of gratitude – especially on your tough days.