Most people I talk to have heard of a gratitude practice, and they are pretty sure that having one would make them happier.
And yet very few of those people are currently doing a gratitude practice.
“Oh, yeah, I used to do that. I got out of the habit.”
Or more likely…
“I keep meaning to try that.”
I get it. The only reason I started a gratitude practice almost three years ago was because I thought it would be good for my blog. (It wasn’t.) I stuck with it because of the impact it had on my life.
And then I didn’t stick with it.
And then I started again.
And then I stopped. And then I started. And then I went five days without doing it.
When I’ve skipped a few days sometimes I feel guilty. That guilt can keep me from opening up the journal again. I experienced something similar when I stopped exercising. It’s totally irrational and yet completely real.
Last night I broke my five day streak. It took me about three minutes, and the results were instantaneous. The guilt washed away immediately and I felt just as good as if I’d never skipped a day.
Have you been meaning to get back to your gratitude practice? Have you been thinking about starting one for the first time? Today is a good day to start again.
1. What you love about today is temporary.
The good in your life right now – be it baby feet, date nights, dog snuggles, or a great yoga class – will not last forever. Kids will grow up, people will change, schedules will evolve. Sure, you will find new good things, but this good right now will be gone.
Savor what is good now so you have no regrets when life moves on.
2. Life is also hard; gratitude can help.
It’s easy to feel grateful when life is easy. It’s much more important to be grateful, to practice gratitude, when life is hard.
Being grateful – which is an act you have control over rather than an emotion you simply feel – has been proven to help people cope with crisis and tragedy.
3. No one else can tell you what makes you happy.
There is a crap ton of research about what should make you happy, but your exact happiness formula is unique. A consistent gratitude practice is an excellent tool for discovering that formula.
I can look back over years of entries and see that some things consistently make me feel good – like going outside, playing with my kids, or doing yoga. I’ve noticed recently that I almost always write down when I make a really good dinner; I’m going to make an effort to spend a few more nights in the kitchen.
A gratitude practice is one of the very best ways to figure out what you really and truly enjoy.
4. Early detection is the best treatment.
My gratitude practice has been very instrumental in helping me manage my depression, and not just because it gives me a list of things to do when I’ve forgotten what makes me happy.
I notice when I have a string of “meh, dinner was OK, I guess” days.
I can see when I am phoning it in – when it takes every ounce of me to come up with something good – and that’s an early sign that I am struggling.
That might mean that I need to take better care of myself because the black cloud is looming. It might also mean that I simply have to get off my ass and live more intentionally if I want my life to be made up of more than a series of mediocre days.
5. Most of the time is good enough.
A gratitude practice isn’t an all or nothing game.
It’s OK if you skip a day (I almost always skip Friday and Saturday because I stay up later). It’s OK if you stop doing it for a few weeks or a few months and come back to it.
There’s no need to let a fear of not doing it exactly right keep you from attempting to form a semi-regular habit.
A gratitude practice is not a permanent change you make in your life and then check off some list. It’s a practice that you can choose to engage with every day.
You can choose to practice today, even if you’ve never done it before or it’s been two weeks since you’ve done it last.
Today is a good day to start again.