Living in LA, you see both extremes of affluence and poverty. I can stand at a stoplight and watch a Rolls Royce Phantom glide by while being approached by a homeless person, asking if I can spare a dollar. It serves as a constant reminder how fortunate I am, which is why I incorporate daily gratitude exercises into my life so I never forget. When things go wrong, my natural inclination isn’t to jump to gratitude and to give thanks for all the things going right in my life. My first thought is what did I do wrong and why it’s all my fault. It’s probably a bit narcissistic to think everything is about me. 🙂 All jokes aside, it’s why developing and maintaining a gratitude mindset is important to me.
Why Gratitude Matters
There are days I stomp around whining about all my problems, big or small, and can’t see all the good things right in front of me. It makes me feel small and mean and I don’t like it. Negativity is constrictive. The world becomes small, narrow and ugly where we think only of ourselves and see lack everywhere. Whereas gratitude expands us. We still see lack because true gratitude doesn’t mean you turn into Pollyanna and skip around ignorant to the world’s ills. No, you still see lack and you also see beauty, possibilities, love and hope amidst the ugliness that exists. A grateful mind is able to keep pushing forward, even during tough times, and gives us the grace to see the world through loving eyes where anything is possible.
5 Gratitude Exercises to Improve Your Outlook
These exercises have helped me tune into my gratitude with growing ease and can help you increase your mindfulness around gratitude too.
1. Acknowledge Blessings Every Day
This is a no-brainer gratitude exercise, but many of us don’t do it. We do it for a few days, but then forget or get busy and stop acknowledging our blessings. I am very guilty of doing this. My intentions are good and then life happens and my daily gratitude rituals get pushed aside. Here are a few ways to help make gratitude a part of your day:
- The Daily 3: When you first wake-up, list three things that you are grateful for out loud, keeping the repetition to a minimum as much as possible. Right before you go to bed, list three things that happened that day you are grateful for out loud. This is a great exercise because it covers both general gratitude and acknowledgement of specific events that happened that day to you.
- Gratitude Journal: Keep a daily journal to list things and people that you are grateful to have in your life. Also list specific events that you are thankful for as well. Note: This is not the journal where you unburden your thoughts but one just to give thanks and express your gratitude.
- Give Thanks Workout: During your workouts, pay attention to the world around you and give thanks. For the sun shining while you’re out running. The soft sand as you walk on the beach. The instructor who is helping you become stronger. I also tell myself with every step I take, I leave behind a problem.
2. Say Thank You to Someone Every Day
While you should give a genuine thank-you to anyone who helps you during the day, in this instance, I mean acknowledging someone in your life unexpectedly. Whether it is for their friendship, support or something else. Call or write them a letter to express your gratitude for having them in your life and how they have made a difference. It doesn’t have to be a major production, although it could be, but just a sincere thank you to the receptionist who greets you cheerfully every day will suffice.
3. Surround Yourself with Gratitude
One of mentors taught me that what I see becomes my reality. And it’s true. If you surround yourself with only negativity, then eventually that is all you see. I make a point to keep things that motivate, inspire and fill me with gratitude around me, especially in my work area since that is where I spend so much of my awake hours. I want to see things, whether photos, objects or sayings, that make me feel good. And this also goes for people too. You can’t always choose those around you, but you know who the Eeyore is in your life. If you can’t reasonably limit your exposure to him or her, then prepare yourself mentally so you don’t get sucked into his negativity. Or as they say in The Devil Wears Prada, “Gird your loins” so that you don’t inadvertently turn into a Negative Nelly too.
4. Make Gratitude Your Default Response
When things go wrong or you’re hurting, it can be hard to find gratitude or see anything good in your life. You want to lash out or hide. And it is those moments, when I need gratitude more than ever. To step back and reassess. See the world through grateful eyes so I don’t hit back with something that I will regret later, which we have all done, whether the regret came instantly or days later. This doesn’t mean that you should let people walk over you or treat you poorly, but to not respond to anger with anger or cruelty with cruelty. To stand your ground in grace.
5. Meditate on a Symbol that Represents Gratitude or Love
I’m not very good with traditional meditation because I struggle to turn my mind off. However, if I can instead concentrate my attention on a focal point while doing breathing exercises to release tension (and other less than desirable emotions), then I see big results. To do this, think of an object or symbol that represents love to you. Focus on your feelings of love and gratitude on that person or object and slowly inhale (to the count of 3) and exhale (to the count of 3). When you exhale, imagine releasing pent-up emotions (like fear, anger or what not) and when inhaling, breathe in love. To help me visualize this, I imagine exhaling black air and inhaling pure white air. It may sound hookey but I swear 10 minutes of this changes my entire body’s energy. Out of all the gratitude exercises, this one packs the biggest immediate punch.
Bonus Tip: Ease into Gratitude. It’s Not a Race
These gratitude exercises are a small sampling of rituals you could incorporate into your day. You do not need to do all of them and I would strongly suggest that you begin with the one exercise that feels the most natural to you. In other words, if you don’t like to write, then don’t force yourself to journal, instead pick something that you can see yourself doing every day. Once it becomes a habit, then consider implementing additional gratitude exercises to further bolster your gratitude mindset.
Choose Gratitude to Create Your Best Life
Never doubt that gratitude is a choice. It is not always the easiest choice because life is sometimes very, very hard, which makes it easy to choose hate, fear, defeat and so on. There have been times when I’ve been faced with a choice and have chosen wrong. I cannot undo the past, but these gratitude exercises strengthen my resolve, so when I am faced with a choice in the future, I will choose gratitude instead and stay on course to creating the life I want where love, joy, compassion and purring cats reign supreme.
What gratitude exercises or rituals do you have? How has gratitude played a role in your life? Are you a gratitude guru or more of a work-in-progress like me?