How To Become A Deliberately Grateful Person
I’ve a confession to make: I haven’t always been an exceptionally grateful individual. Thankfully, in recent years I’ve learned how important it is to deliberately cultivate and express gratitude. I use the term “deliberately” because I’ve noticed that too many people believe additional gratitude will “just happen” to them without much work or discipline. While certain people are more likely to be instinctively grateful than others, everyone has the capacity to learn how to be more grateful. Gratitude will inevitably manifest itself differently depending on your inborn personality, the culture you live in, and beyond. By no means am I suggesting everyone will or even should start gushing aloud about all the things they are grateful for. However, if this is what comes naturally to you, perhaps you should proceed accordingly.
Gratitude isn’t about denying the frustrations in our lives; instead, it’s about having a greater perspective about them in order to see a silver lining—or, if you prefer, the rainbow which follows the storm. Becoming more grateful won’t keep you out of harm’s way; it may, however, help you have a sense of humor when things don’t go as planned.
It’s possible you’ve heard about keeping a gratitude journal which you write in either every morning or night. If you decide to start a gratitude journal, I recommend you write in it born in the morning and at night. Or, if you prefer a more spontaneous approach, you can write in it throughout the day. It’s also possible you may want to name a certain number of things you are grateful for, and in this way keep an ongoing list. Ann Voskamp’s inspiring memoir one thousand gifts details how her worldview radically changed while she was recording one thousand things she was grateful for. I’m not suggesting you record this many items, yet I believe that there is a strong correlation between greater peace of mind and the number of things you are consciously grateful for.
Do you think your life would be improved if you lowered your expectations in key areas?
Another way to experience more gratitude is by lowering and, when appropriate, eliminating your expectations. One obvious place to do this is when you are about to go on a vacation. It’s easy to fixate on how fabulous you expect this vacation to be; when you do this too much, you’re more likely to be disappointed than you would have been with lower expectations. I’ve learned that it’s often helpful to lower my expectations for social encounters—while still maintaining standards of respectful and responsible behavior from all parties—helps me better enjoy the time I spend with others. This I’ve found is especially true in romantic relationships, as I am able to savor the surprise moments with my significant other if I am not distracted by unnecessary expectations.
Spending time with thankful individuals is another way to learn how to be more grateful. This may be less possible in your work life; however, in your home life and with your friends, try to be around those who express gratitude. My Grandma Glenna is an exceptionally grateful person, and I typically view life more favorably after I’ve spent time with her. Moreover, the fact she is openly grateful for my company helps me to act similarly when I am around people I value.
It’s also wise to, if possible, associate as little as you can with anyone who is perpetually negative. It’s challenging for me to remain in a positive frame of mind if I am around someone who complains incessantly, and I believe this is true for many people. This is different, of course, from spending time with a friend who is describing a frustrating situation they want to remedy.
It may be helpful to remind yourself of how your current situation could be worse. If, for example, you are standing in the pouring rain with a flat tire, you can remind yourself that you could have been in a fatal car accident. While the expression “It could be worse” may be a cliché, remembering this should help you see the upside of otherwise unpleasant circumstances.
While I believe additional gratitude is a reward in itself, perhaps it would help if you think of a system in which you reward yourself for complaining less and being grateful more often. This could involve posting a piece of paper on your fridge in which you put a gold star every time you utter thanks and put a red star every time you complain. I realize this may sound ridiculous, and it’s possible this approach won’t work for you. Nonetheless, certain individuals may benefit from having a visual reminder of their evolution from unhelpful ingratitude to life-altering thankfulness.
Consciously trying to laugh more will allow you to see the world more favorably. The restorative powers of laughter is something I am inescapably grateful for, and I’ve found it’s easier to see blessings in my life after I’ve been laughing. In addition, I’ve experienced the invisible glue which bonds people who laugh together. Since I am grateful when I become closer to my nearest and dearest, this is yet another reason to laugh more.
Concentrating on being grateful for specific things compared to vague concepts such as “freedom” and “love” is worth doing. For example, it’s often better to be grateful for your friend Jack instead of being grateful—in an inevitably vague fashion—for all your friends. Or, instead of being grateful to have enough food to eat, you could be grateful to be eating a tuna sandwich with extra pickles. I’ve discovered being forced to be specific when expressing gratitude forces me to carefully think about and pay attention to what I am thankful for. This act of attention is enormously helpful; it could even be suggested it’s almost impossible to be fully grateful unless you are paying enough attention.
Finally, try to view your least favorite tasks—whether changing diapers, cleaning your bathroom, or driving an hour one-way to work—as something you “get to” do compared to something you “have to” do. This may seem like an insignificant difference, yet it isn’t. The expression “get to” is a positive, grateful one. In other words, it focuses on your opportunity to do something. The expression “have to” hints at being “forced” to do something unpleasant. Although there are tasks in life which are not nearly as enjoyable as others, focusing on the fact you are able to—and get to—do something helps to see the situation in a new light. This shift in mindset has helped me enormously. I’m now able to view the potentially unappealing task of cleaning my apartment in a positive light because I’m able to complete this task, and, moreover, I am fortunate to have an apartment to clean.
Cultivating more gratitude can be approached in various ways. Your best approach may not include anything I’ve mentioned, or it may be an offshoot of something I’ve suggested. Regardless, I hope you’re soon able to determine how to welcome more gratitude into your life.