It’s Thanksgiving, and that means that many people are taking a moment to reflect on what they are grateful for this year and in their life in general. I’ve never really enjoyed the habit of going around the Thanksgiving table to publicly announce what we’re grateful for. I expect it had to do with being shy and introverted as a child. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was feeling, which is something that I continue to struggle with.
As an adult, I fell into a routine of thinking about everyone and everything I was grateful for before I fell asleep every night – a mental checklist. Even if I had a particularly bad day – especially if – I tried not to skip this practice. It kept me focused on the positive and eventually helped me to shift from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance. I think it was great that I focused on being grateful every night before falling asleep, but it wasn’t permeating into the rest of my life.
At the beginning of 2014, I embarked on a quest of personal improvement and development. After a particularly rough 2013, I wanted to break out of a rut and push myself to learn and grow in ways I hadn’t previously considered. I continued my nightly gratitude practice, but I knew I should be pushing myself to develop a gratitude habit that was deeper and stronger.
Then, in May, I learned about The Five Minute Journal through a podcast, and I decided to try it. The journal contains a page for each day. In the morning, you are instructed to write down three things you are grateful for and also three ways that you can make the day “amazing.” Finally, there is a spot for journaling a personal affirmation. In the evening, you write down three “amazing” things that happened during the day and one way you could have made the day better.
I was resistant to this format at first, and I’ll admit that I never mastered the habit of journaling in the evening (I usually fill out the previous day’s spot the morning after). It is very difficult to find three brand new things to be grateful for every day, and I try really hard not to repeat the same things day after day. The idea is that you are constantly looking for new ways to be grateful every single day. I found that writing them down forced me to think carefully about what I was grateful for and not just recite a generic list by rote. As time went on, I found more and more ways to be grateful for even the smallest things and moments.
Thinking of three ways I could make each day amazing was also challenging. After a while, I realized that they didn’t have to be huge accomplishments. Taking a moment each morning to thoughtfully consider what I wanted to get out of the day ahead helped me to focus and avoid going on autopilot, especially on more routine days that seemed to hold no promise that anything amazing could happen.
But the toughest part of this practice was listing three ways the day was amazing after the day was over and all of the promise was gone. Some days are boring or routine. Some days just suck. You’re tired, you’re sick, your job is stressful or unfulfilling. You come home, eat some dinner, watch some mindless television and go to bed. It’s really hard to write down three amazing things on those kind of days.
I had a pretty rough day a couple weeks ago, and it would have been really easy to skip writing down three things I was grateful for that day and later on three ways the day was amazing. I made myself do it anyway, and I found that I was able to shift my entire mindset about what had happened. It was, as Oprah would say, an Aha Moment.
I realized that, subconsciously, my whole approach to life had subtly shifted. Whenever I would feel myself getting annoyed or stressed out, I would instinctively start listing in my head all of the good things about the situation. Boring faculty meeting during lunch time – I’m so grateful to be part of such an incredible team made up of such amazing talented people; the room we meet in is toasty warm on a freezing cold day; my lunch is tasty, healthy and filling. Stuck in traffic – I’m grateful for the time to listen to another informative podcast; time to call a friend of family member; time just to be quiet and think. Stressful situation with a client or student – I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn something new that I can use in the future.
I had to consistently work on being grateful and intentionally considering how I could make each day a positive experience for months before this mindset became a habit. Now, on Thanksgiving Day, feeling grateful isn’t a struggle…it’s natural. I could list 100 ways or more I’m grateful today and it doesn’t feel trite or shallow. It feels awesome.
If you struggle with feeling positive or seeing the good, not just in stressful or painful situations, but in your everyday life, I can’t recommend developing a daily gratitude practice enough. Start by writing down three to five things you are grateful for every morning when you first wake up. They can be as simple as being grateful for a hot cup of delicious coffee, a warm home, and a cozy bed. As you work on being grateful more and more, you’ll find that it gets easier to see ways you can be grateful that you never thought of before. Before you go to bed, challenge yourself to think of three things that happened that day that you can be grateful for. Some days it feels impossible, but I’ve found those are the days when it’s most important to complete the list.
I hope that you can use my experience to bring a little more gratitude into your life each and every day instead of waiting for the one time of year we’re supposed to feel grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!