Five Tips to Jump-Start Your Gratitude Practice

Gratitude is all the rage these days.  From Oprah's gratitude list, to gratitude journals, to #grateful, it's pretty impossible to ignore.  It seems as though Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the airport bookstore I was in recently are all shouting at me to be grateful, to practice gratitude.  It sounds like a great concept, but it takes more than an inspirational meme to understand how to actually make gratitude a part of your life.  Read on for five tips that you can use today to start your gratitude practice.

1.  Remember that gratitude does not mean that your life is perfect, or has not been difficult:  When it comes to gratitude, this is the most common roadblock that I hear from clients and friends.  When you are in the midst of life's challenges - physical illness, death of a loved one, mental illness, it can be difficult to imagine feeling grateful about anything.  Even if you're not struggling with anything in particular, we all, at times, have difficulty imagining that there is anything about our lives for which to be grateful.  This mindset is your biggest cognitive roadblock to gratitude.  Remember that practicing gratitude is not about pretending that your life is perfect, or that your struggles are not real, it's about finding something that you feel grateful for in every day.

2.  Gratitude is not positive thinking:  Oftentimes clients will come to me and tell me that everyone in their lives has told them to 'just think more positively!'  There's a reason why positive thinking often fails so miserably - it's because it's not always realistic.  Let's say someone is struggling with severe OCD and she is really trying to think positively.  'Don't worry, there's nothing to worry about, everything is fine,' she tells herself, and then feels worse because that just didn't help at all.  Why?  Because it's not realistic, everything is not fine, and she is worrying most of the day.  Gratitude is therefore not necessarily positive thinking, but realistic thinking.  'I am struggling right now, and I'm grateful that my condition has a name, and an effective treatment.'  See the difference?

3.  Starting small will help:  You're not going to transform yourself into Mary Poppins overnight, building a gratitude practice takes time!  Set a specific, manageable, gratitude goal for yourself each day; before bed each night, I will write down one thing that I am grateful for, no matter how small.  There is no such thing as something too insignificant for gratitude practice.  In fact, the more we acknowledge the smaller things in our lives, the more grateful we will feel.  Coffee makes my gratitude list most mornings.

4.  Gratitude breeds gratitude:  Once you start noticing the small things about life that you feel grateful for, you'll start noticing more.  Don't despair if, in the beginning, all you can come up with is 'I feel grateful that the corn on my foot finally fell off,' it gets easier!

5.  It's not life changing, but it can help you change your life:  Practicing gratitude will not change your life.  It won't make you taller, or make your hair less prone to frizz when it's humid.  Over time, practicing gratitude will improve your emotional health, because you will have honed a difficult skill, finding the good in every day.  

Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, behavioral parent training, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] to set up a free consultation.  Visit my website for more information.

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