There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a year packed with challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major health concerns and often-uncomfortable changes in the way we live, work, attend school and socialize—if we socialize at all. On top of COVID concerns, the reports that feelings of frustration, fear and anger in America are rising as we struggle through uncertain times.
You may not be able to control challenging circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. One healthy way to respond is by being grateful for what is good in your life. Gratitude is appreciating what is valuable and meaningful to you, and an association between gratitude and an improved sense of well-being. Gratitude has been shown to positively affect emotions, resilience and relationships. Moreover, people who practice being thankful report fewer health issues including headaches, sleep problems and respiratory infections.
While Thanksgiving is a single day set aside for being grateful, learning to practice gratitude on a daily basis can have longer-lasting benefits. Even when you’re feeling like there’s not much to be thankful for, regularly experiencing small acts of gratitude can relieve some of the stress you may be feeling.
Here are a few simple ways to incorporate gratitude into your everyday life.
Keep a gratitude journal
Start a written or online journal and spend a few minutes every few days writing down things you are thankful for. At first, this may feel difficult; we’re used to focusing on being grateful for big things like a promotion at work, or material things like a new car. But how about feeling grateful that you are healthy enough to exercise or have nutritious food available when you want it? You can be grateful for your kids, your pets, your home, a beautiful day or the cup of coffee in your hands. Little things matter, and when you start to think smaller, the list can seem endless. Aim to list five things every time you journal.
Say thank you
Thanking others is not only good manners, it creates well-being on both sides. Make an effort to be genuine when you thank people in routine situations, such as the grocery store cashier or the delivery driver who brings dinner. You can also express gratitude when it’s not expected. Take a moment to text a friend and let them know how much you value them. Thank your partner or family member for being there with you during stressful times, instead of waiting for them to do something specific.
Choose a gratitude reminder
Ideally, this is an object you see several times a day that will remind you to be grateful. It may be a pretty stone, a souvenir from a vacation, a sticker or whatever works for you. Keep it where you will see it often and think of something you are grateful for every time you notice it.
You’re likely already familiar with the practice of meditation, which may involve finding a quiet place to sit or lie down comfortably for several minutes, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. While traditional meditation methods teach you to clear your mind and let your thoughts go, gratitude meditation encourages you to actively think about things in your life for which you are grateful. They can be big or small, in the past or present. You may be thankful for people, things, experiences—there really is no limit. As each comes to mind, notice it and express thanks. When you have finished, focus once again on your breathing for several breaths, and slowly end your session.
“Gratitude is the appreciation of things that are not deserved, earned or demanded – those wonderful things that we take for granted.” – Renée Paule