How to get the most out of your gratitude practice

How to get the most out of your gratitude practice

Back in September, before I took my month-long sabbatical, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what a regular gratitude practice looked like. In fact, I had spent the better part of 4 years keeping a gratitude journal based on the book Make Miracles In Forty Days* by Melody Beattie.

I made daily lists, worked hard to find the good in situations that truly challenged me, and even ran several group programs called Project: Miracles to help others do the same. Suffice it to say, I saw how helpful gratitude had been in my life and was a believer in the process.

I’m sure I could have lived happily enough with that knowledge for the rest of my days on this earth.

But something happened during my sabbatical that completely cracked me open and took me to a deeper and more profound understanding of gratitude and how it works. Perhaps it was the extreme lows of that first week off or the way in which Pam Grout captured my attention in Thank & Grow Rich*. Whatever the case may be, it was as if gratitude went from a simple thought exercise to a full-body experience that I felt in every inch of my body.

My gratitude practice shifted from a mind-centered experience to a full-body experience.

Like most people, when I first started practicing gratitude it was in list form in a journal. I would sit and think about my day and then write down everything I was grateful for. It was powerful in the sense that it gave me a new way to process my experiences and helped to shift my worldview into a more positive one.

But it was a passive experience; a thought exercise that took place in my head.

As much as I love writing, journaling, and thinking through things, that approach only gets me so far. So while I saw good results with the gratitude journaling, it never really felt life-changing (or life-affirming) the way some people talk about the practice of gratitude.

That second week, though, after reading several books on the topic of gratitude I began to see the process in a whole new way.

I had a thought pop into my head at some point that week about truly living the expression, thanks a million. What would it take to create a list of 1,000,000 things that I was grateful for? Could I even do it? And if I could, how many years would it take and how many thank you’s did that equate to each day?

The answer: it would take a little over 27 years if I wrote down 100 things a day.

Totally doable. (I mean, I did complete two different 100 day projects. How much harder could something like this really be?!)

So I grabbed a notebook and began my quest to practice what Pam Grout calls shameless gratitude.

I had expected it to be a challenge, one that I was willingly stepping into. What I hadn’t expected was how dramatic the impact would be on my life.

The enjoyment I found in the day-to-day experiences of my life became almost too much. I was brought to tears several times at the sheer joy of reading a book outside and finding feathers on my walks.

The synchronicities that unfolded were more beautiful than I could have imagined. I sent gifts to people for the exact thing they had been wanting to do, at a place where they already went. I sent seemingly small gifts and handwritten notes to friends and strangers alike, only to receive feedback that they were exactly what that person needed at that very moment.

I laughed more than I had in months.

My meditation deepened.

I felt more connected to the people around me.

I found pure joy in being outside.

I took better care of myself.

I was more present to the world (and people) around me.

I was happier.

And for the first time in a very long time, I was at peace with my life and my journey.

So what changed in that week of practicing shameless gratitude and how can you take what I learned and implement it in your own life?

What changed that week:

  • I read up on gratitude. I read 4-5 books on the topic of gratitude, familiarizing myself with what it is and how it can transform our lives. The first book I read was Thank & Grow Rich by Pam Grout, and then moved on to Gratitude Works! by Robert A. Emmons, The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler, and 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik. I also read The Gratitude Diaries* by Janice Kaplan. Each book was different enough to keep it interesting while touching on different facets of gratitude and what a gratitude practice looked like in the real world.
  • I took what I read and put it into practice. Once I was armed with knowledge and ideas about gratitude, it was time to think about how I wanted to implement it in my own life. I tried on a few different approaches, including extreme gratitude journaling, gratitude meditations, and intention setting.
  • I practiced extreme gratitude. It wasn’t enough for me to list 3-5 things I was grateful for. I had been doing gratitude journaling long enough that I could come up with those things in a minute or two. No, I needed to stretch myself out of my comfort zone and really dig deep. So I challenged myself to write down 100 things a day that I was grateful for. The first day I did it, it took me 3 hours. The second day, around 2 hours. By the third and fourth day, I had begun to take that approach to the entirety of my day. I’d even try to come up with 25 reasons I was grateful for my husband and/or my daughter at night before drifting off to sleep. I immersed myself in gratitude morning, noon, and night. And it was nothing short of magical.
  • I got as specific as possible. It wasn’t enough to just say that I was grateful for my family. I got really specific about all of the reasons WHY I was grateful for my family. I would even pick a family member and try to list at least 25 reasons why I was grateful for that person — from the things they did to how they made me feel, everything was fair game when it came to creating my lists. A funny thing happened when I got specific — it got easier to list things I was grateful for. The more I remembered and expressed gratitude for, the more I was able to find to be grateful for in the first place.
  • I shared what I discovered through journaling with others. A few times throughout my extreme gratitude journaling, I would write about a specific person or incident in my life and how grateful I felt as a result. Instead of just letting that feeling sit in the pages of my gratitude journal, I put that expression of gratitude into a card and sent it to that person. Not only did it feel amazing to think about the kindnesses others had bestowed up me, it made the other person feel loved and respected.
  • It gave me new eyes to view the world. Because I was constantly on the lookout for things to add to my gratitude list each day, I began to seek out the good in all situations. I would also put myself in situations where I was more likely to notice the beauty around me — I went for more walks, I was more playful with my daughter, I was more willing to say yes to new experiences. It also helped me look at potentially negative experiences in a different light. Instead of being a passive victim, I was able to see that lessons abounded everywhere and that each situation had a powerful nugget to teach me if I was willing to find it.
  • I began to notice how gratitude felt in my body. When I was in the flow of gratitude, I could feel my body responding in some really powerful ways. My chest constantly felt like it was expanding. I was brought to tears several times because I was feeling such a deep joy and happiness. The anxiety and general angst I had been feeling the week prior simply melted away, leaving me feeling at peace with the world. I felt deeply connected to nature and to other people — strangers and friends alike. When I would get angry or feel out of sorts, it was much easier to get back into my body and feel grounded.
  • Everything became easier. My relationships — particularly with my husband and daughter — were easier and more playful. It was easier to prioritize myself and my needs; self-care was no longer something I dreamed about. I simply did things to take care of myself. I also noticed that I felt more creative and inspired than I had in years. The sheer quantity of ideas that came about that week was mind-blowing.

How to get the most out of your gratitude practice:

  1. Stretch yourself. If the idea of writing down 5 things you’re grateful for each day stresses you out, start there. If you’ve been a regular gratitude journaler, try 100. The point here is to make coming up with items to add to your list a struggle.
  2. Try a gratitude meditation. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Get into a comfortable position (seated or laying down) and close your eyes. Think about every single thing you’re grateful for — from people to events to the way the wind caresses your skin. Notice how that feels in your body. Does it make your chest expand? Does it make you feel lighter in your body? Do you notice pain shifting, tingling, or any other physical symptoms? Do you feel calmer, more at peace, happier? Prefer a guided meditation to get you started? Here’s one from Deepak Chopra.
  3. Bookend your days in gratitude. Start and end your day with 5 things that you’re grateful for. This can be a written exercise (I recommend keeping a notebook by your bed), a walking meditation (with every step or brush of your teeth, think of something you’re grateful for), or even a family activity that you do at breakfast and dinner each day.
  4. Share your gratitude with someone else. Send a note to a friend or loved one telling them how grateful you are for their love and support. It doesn’t have to be a long letter, but it does need to be heartfelt and specific.
  5. Be as specific as possible. Instead of keeping your gratitude at the surface level of being grateful for family, for your home, and for food on your table, try to get as specific as possible. A great template for diving into the specifics: I am grateful for ______ because ________.

I’d love to hear from you!

Do you have a regular gratitude practice? If so, what are you already doing to infuse more gratitude in your day-to-day life?

Take a listen!

Prefer to listen to this post? Check out this week’s quick tip over on Some Kind of Magic.

More about Emily Levenson

Emily Levenson is a therapist turned holistic health coach, podcaster, meditation encourager, and seeker of everyday magic. Emily recently kicked off her third #The100DayProject, focusing her efforts on daily meditation.

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