November is upon us and with it comes the official season of gratitude in the United States.
Gratitude can have a significant positive influence on our physical and mental health, but like other healthy habits, even though we know it’s good for us, we often struggle to practice it consistently.
Why is gratitude so hard to practice?
Let’s face it, it’s easier to focus on what we don’t have, our imperfections, and our problems than it is to be grateful for what we have. Between the violence, natural disasters, and divisive political climate, it’s been a rough year for many of us. We’re inundated with negatives nearly 24/7 from the news, social media, and even in-person conversations. So, we have to work extra hard to find the good in ourselves and the world around us.
Gratitude is an intentional practice
To get the benefits of gratitude, we need to practice it consistently, which means we need to plan a way to incorporate gratitude into our already overscheduled, overstressed lives.
Setting an intention to practice gratitude is a commitment to do it even when we don’t feel like it. Gratitude is easy when things are going well, but when problems are piling up, the world seems to be falling apart, and we don’t know how we’re going to get through the day, it’s hard to feel grateful. So, how do we shift gears and focus on the good while also acknowledging that we’re hurting and afraid?
If you’re struggling to find something to thankful for, start small. There are always things to be grateful for, even on our darkest days, but we have to look harder for them. Like digging for buried treasure, it takes effort, but the reward is great.
Try to identify one good thing – a supportive person, a comfy sweater, hot water, or even that you’re able to read this article. Try to stay open-minded. Your first response might still be to minimize the positives and focus on the negatives, but by practicing gratitude we can actually train ourselves to spot the positives. This means that with practice, it will become easier to identify things you’re grateful for and you’ll develop an open and joyful heart, as well as a greater appreciation for yourself and the world around you. Gratitude doesn’t make our problems disappear, but it helps them feel more manageable.
Try a gratitude journal
One way to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Below are 30 gratitude journal prompts to get you started.
- What’s something that you’re looking forward to?
- What’s a simple pleasure that you’re grateful for?
- What’s something that you grateful to have today that you didn’t have a year ago?
- Write about a happy memory.
- Write about someplace you’ve been that you’re grateful for.
- What’s something about your body or health that you’re grateful for?
- Open the door or window and look outside. What’s something you’re grateful for outside?
- What’s an accomplishment you’re proud of?
- What’s a possession that makes your life easier?
- Open your phone or photo album and find a photo that you like. Why are you grateful for this photo? What are you grateful for in the photo?
- What have you been given that you’re grateful for?
- What’s something or someone that makes you feel safe?
- What artist, author, or musician are you grateful for?
- What do you like about your job?
- How are you able to help others?
- What public service or organization are you grateful for (i.e. the library or fire department)?
- What book(s) are you grateful for?
- What piece of clothing or furniture are you grateful for?
- Write about a friend that you’re grateful for.
- Write about a teacher or mentor that you’re grateful for.
- Write about a family member that you’re grateful for.
- What did you accomplish today?
- What’s a tradition that you’re grateful for?
- What’s one of your personality traits that you’re grateful for?
- What mistake or failure are you grateful for?
- What skill(s) do you have that you’re grateful for?
- What’s something that you bought recently that you’re grateful for?
- What’s something that you made recently that you’re grateful for?
- Look around the room and write about everything you see that you’re grateful for.
- Write about 3 things you’re grateful for today.
How to use a gratitude journal
You can certainly just go through the list, answering one question per day. This makes for a decision-free and possibly challenging gratitude journal (you may not feel like answering the prompt that comes up for today, but you’re stretching yourself by answering it anyway). Or you can pick and choose, writing about only the prompts that resonate with you and repeating them if you like. Alternatively, you can list or write about 3-5 things you’re grateful for every day – whatever comes to mind when you sit down to write.
All habits are easiest when we do them consistently at the same time of day. So, I encourage you to try to write in your gratitude journal every morning when you first wake up or every night just before going to sleep (or some other consistent time that works in your schedule).
Some people feel more motivated to write when they have nice writing tools -- a high-quality, attractive journal or notebook and smooth-writing or colorful pens. If those things don’t matter to you, just find an old notebook or use your computer or phone to collect your ideas. It’s all about finding what works for you!
Variations on a gratitude journal
If you want to try something a little different, you might be interested in trying one of these alternatives to a gratitude journal:
Tips for practicing gratitude
- Have fun
- Be creative
- Be consistent
- There’s no wrong way to do it
- Start looking for things to be thankful for everywhere
- Share what you’re grateful for with someone else
I hope these ideas help you kickstart your gratitude practice!
©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.