Have you tried feeling grateful?

By Ted Behr, M. Ed., CPCC, ACC

If you are involved in a major life change or facing some other challenge in your life, it can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude. But to be successful, a positive attitude is critical. There are many ways to combat the negativity around and inside us, but the power of gratitude is one of the most effective.

The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness and success has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and even a faster rate of recovery from surgery.

But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. And for gratitude to meet its full healing potential, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time and effort.

That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.

Remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s really about where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world and at times in our lives, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.

There are many things to be grateful for: colorful autumn leaves, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, chocolate, music, warm jackets, tomatoes, the ability to read, pets, roses, our health, butterflies. What’s on your list?

Some Ways to Practice Gratitude

  • Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way. (Each night before bed, I write down 5 things that I am grateful for that day in a special gratitude book.)
  • Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
  • Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
  • Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
  • When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel. BTW, it’s OK to complain. It can help to blow out some of that energy. Just don’t get stuck in it. If you need to, complain flat out for two minutes, then make your gratitude list.
  • Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.
  • As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.

Author’s content used under license, © 2011 Claire Communications

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