Gratitude Practice Sounds… Not like me
I cringe at some of the overly ernest and fluffy stuff that pops up in the coaching world, and to me, “Gratitude Practice” just sounded like a new-age way of defining appreciation. And actually, there is so much superficial garbage out there in the self improvement space, that I’m quite comfortable holding on to a little bit of skepticism. But what I’ve also learned, is that I need to be open minded and remember that maybe sometimes the problem is me, or more specifically, some of my beliefs. Which takes us to: “The Gratitude Practice”.
To begin with, there’s something about it being called a “practice” that irks me. I feel the same way about Yoga, I do Yoga but calling it a “practice” seems to give it unnecessary veritas. Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept of being grateful. I make deliberate efforts to thank people regularly for the big and small things and I appreciate all of the amazing things in my life, but why does this need to be formalized into a ritualized practice when I’m already crazy busy?
The Science of Gratitude
Because science. Some science has been emerging to demonstrate a link between gratitude and well being*. Gratitude has been linked to happiness, health, energy, and so on (basically all the good stuff). For example, one study showed that gratitude reduces social comparisons, while another tied it to being more likely to exercise. Fascinatingly, although mental health benefits of a positive activity often decline over time, the benefits of practicing gratitude appear to grow over time (side note, effects begin to appear after approximately 4 weeks). All good things. Furthermore, practicing gratitude is free and doesn’t need to take up a lot of time. Since I like to think of myself as open-minded, there was no good reason not to try it out.
Gratitude – The Catch
Upfront you need to know that the only way this whole gratitude thing works is if you connect to the feeling of gratitude – the actual emotion that sits in your body. It’s not about forcing positive thoughts or listing stuff you know you should be grateful for, but can’t quite muster up the sincere affection for it in the moment. There is infinitely more value in finding a sincere moment of gratitude for one small thing than listing 20 things you know you should be grateful for.
What is a Gratitude Practice?
A Gratitude Practice is simply one’s daily habit of paying attention and acknowledging the good in one’s life, even the good that can be found in what may seem like a “bad” situation. There is no right or wrong way to do it, although I recommend pen and paper be involved. Things to be grateful for can include people, actions people have taken, little pleasures, gaining knowledge, things from the distant past, something in the future… nothing is off-limits. My number one gratitude is almost always about cuddling with my dog.
My current “practice” consists of listing ten things each day, and it winds up being a mix of big and small things with a little bit of repetition. I follow this up by thinking positive thoughts about someone who I am less than thrilled with (might be someone a little irritating, but could be a deeper wound).
What Did I Learn?
I learned something about myself. A gratitude practice requires a certain openness and vulnerability and I’m not a fan of vulnerability on demand. Oddly, I’m quite comfortable sharing one-on-one or with a small group of people, but it’s so different to just put it out there even if it isn’t public. I think it cuts into my self-image of being a little bit cool and funny, and only vulnerable when I choose to be. Being so open doesn’t feel edgy at all. But (and now I’m going to be super earnest, forgive me I don’t know what I unleashed here) I also realized that this openness is where we find truth and connection, two things I deeply believe that the world needs right now (…have you watched Nanette by Hannah Gadsby yet, obviously it impacted me too). And it’s arrogant and selfish for me to want, enjoy, and benefit from this vulnerability from others while wanting to keep mine to myself.
For real, what are you grateful for today?
*hey science people, don’t fret, I understand that a link is not necessarily a causal relationship