How to Cultivate Gratitude When All Else Fails

Photo by Joshua Reddekopp on Unsplash

What did you take for granted before COVID-19? Hugging your friends and family, shaking hands when you meet people, eating out at restaurants, going to the office. For many of us, gratitude can be in short supply, even when life is good. Especially when life is good. It is as if we are built to take things for granted…until we don’t have them anymore.

People all over the world are struggling right now and the idea of being grateful might seem like a stretch. But an attitude of gratitude can help dispel the darkest of moods! It is almost impossible to be miserable when you feel grateful.

Because we are so good at taking “normal” stuff for granted, it takes work to cultivate gratitude. So what can you do to help to loosen and break up the soil of your mind so that gratitude can grow there?

Daily Intentions

One way to start cultivating gratitude is by setting a daily intention to be grateful. Setting intentions will help focus your attention on things that bring happiness and joy throughout the day.

When you set an intention to be grateful, it doesn’t mean that you have to walk around thinking I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful all day long. Consider when you are going to the grocery store. Are you thinking I’m going to the store, I’m going to the store, I’m going to the store? No.

Intentions are thoughts, but they are deeper and more abstract. You feel an intention, you don’t just think it in your head.

The Gratitude Exercise

Another way to cultivate gratitude is to practice the Gratitude Exercise. Essentially, this is making a list of all the things you are grateful for in each major area of your life.

When doing this exercise, it is important to understand the difference between affirmational gratitude and authentic gratitude. Affirmational gratitude is a bit like telling yourself a lie. For example, writing a gratitude list that includes statements like I am grateful that I have everything I need or I am grateful that I am satisfied with my job is great…if those statements are true. But if you don’t really believe that you have everything you need and you hate your job, then your statements are more aspirational than authentic. This “fake it till you make it” approach to making gratitude lists is not really effective.

But what is really effective is authentic gratitude. Practicing authentic gratitude is about discovering something that you are actually grateful for in your life, right now.

Ask yourself what you are grateful for in each major area of your life. The major areas of life include your health, relationships, family, career & finances, self-development, and spirituality.

You might end up with a long list of the big stuff, or a small list of the small stuff. And that’s okay. What is important is that you bring these things that you are authentically grateful for to mind and that you feel the truth of them in your heart.

Write down the things that you are authentically grateful for and keep your list nearby. Read it in the morning when you set your daily intentions, and look back over it at night before you go to sleep.

Finding the Beauty

At times, even the concept of gratitude can seem like a stretch. In these times, you can begin cultivating gratitude with an exercise called Finding the Beauty. It is a great supplement to your practice, especially when you are having a hard time feeling grateful for things or when you believe you don’t have anything at all to be grateful for.

To do this exercise, take time each day to notice at least one positive thing about other people, yourself, the world around you, and the challenges you are facing. Find an element of beauty or a positive aspect in each of these things and then tell someone else about what you have discovered or realized.

The “what” doesn’t matter as much as the process of noticing something — anything — positive about other people, about yourself, about the world, and about the challenges you’re facing. Telling someone else is an important part of the process because it makes it more real, more solid and the act of sharing this appreciation can be tremendously impactful for you and for the person you choose to share with.

Retraining Your Brain

Our brains develop unconscious, unintentional patterns that can have a negative effect on our lives when played out over time. Like a puppy, you train your brain to fetch certain information and when this happens over and over again then it becomes an unconscious pattern.

The good news is that you can reprogram, rewire, and retrain your brain to notice, collect, and store information that supports your highest good and happiness. But like a puppy, this takes repetition. Doing these brain retraining exercises daily will yield the best results.

Remember that where attention flows, energy goes and when you magnify something, it gets bigger. Happiness is a choice. It is just about impossible to be miserable when you are feeling grateful. You can choose to put negative feelings on the shelf and turn your focus to all things you are grateful for.

Integrative Wellness Consultant & Life Coach, specializing in dementia risk reduction. Lover of human beings in all our quirkiness 🤙🏼

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