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Cultivating a Practice of Gratitude

By Lauren Caccamo, LPC

A gratitude blog post in November? Ground breaking, right? Well I’m here to talk a bit about gratitude, but what I mainly want to discuss is what it means to hold space in your everyday life for a gratitude practice.

If you have been anywhere near the mental health space in the last ten years, you probably know that an “attitude of gratitude” has been boasted as one most the positive changes you can implement into your life. Throughout the years, we have learned that a thankful appreciation for what you have, or gratitude, can help you experience more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve both your physical and emotional health, build strong relationships, and even cope with adversity. So that family vacation you are taking in a month, well you may enjoy it more if gratitude was part of your everyday life, or maybe gratitude helps improve the relationship you have with your co-worker, or maybe you just feel the warm and fuzzies for the warm and fuzzy boots you have on your feet that are protecting you from the frigid 10-degree temperatures outside. Sounds magical, right? So then, the questions is, how do we implement this gratitude into our lives in an effective way that endures the test of everyday life? My answer, by making it a practice.

As a yoga teacher, one of the ideas we consistently talk about in class is that you do not “master” or “perfect” yoga, you simply practice it. You don’t go to yoga to perfect a pose or compete in a class with your fellow yogis, you go to yoga to practice yoga. Practice is a verb that is defined as “performing an activity or exercising a skill repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency”. A practice is about repeated consistency that creates space in your life to improve or simply maintain whatever it is you are practicing. The intention behind a practice is not perfecting it, it is doing it. One of the things that many people struggle with today is that nagging feeling that they need to do something perfectly in order to actually do it. Having a practice is the opposite of that. Striving for high quality or excellence is important, but often times there is a lot of pressure on us to achieve perfection, which in turn can make the things we are doing less enjoyable. And when the activities we are doing become less enjoyable, often times we end up stop doing those activities all together. Having a practice is about showing up every day, or however often you want to implement something into your life, and doing that activity or skill no matter what the outcome is, perfect or not. The idea behind this is as you continue to practice activities or skills that are important to you, despite the success, or lack thereof, you get the benefit of the process, or the practice, not the perfection.

So, thinking about the concept of gratitude in terms of practice means that gratitude is something you intentionally bring into your life repeatedly and regularly despite how close to perfect the result is. No matter the outcome, it is about showing up for yourself and incorporating activities into your day that bring awareness to things in life that you are grateful for. 

Check out some of these simple ways to start practicing gratitude today:

  • Write a thank you note to someone else (or even yourself!). Getting your message out on paper can feel good and it can help you organize your thoughts. Write it down, maybe even send it, or possibly even read it aloud to that special someone, even if that is yourself.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Sit down once a day and reflect on three things you are thankful for in you day and why. Small, big, tangible, abstract, people, places, things, they can be anything. Keep a list in a physical journal or even electronically. If things are feeling difficult, reference it for a little pick me up!
  • Literally count your blessings. Using the day of the month, count your blessings. Example: December 1st name one thing you are grateful for, December 9th name nine things, and for the double digits add the numbers together (December 31st…3 + 1 = 4 things you are grateful for), unless you are up for the challenge to name all 31, you could do that as well…
  • Tell your people. You can multiply the effects of gratitude if you share it! By passing on your message of gratitude to others you can make yourself happier, nurture that relationship, and possibly even make that person’s day.  Express your enjoyment and appreciation towards your boss, your children, your coworker, your friends, your spouse, your yoga teacher, anyone can benefit from gratitude. Share with the people that you feel thankful for or what they bring into your life.
  • Engage in mental subtraction. Imagine what your life would be like if you took away different positive pieces. Subtract positive people, experiences, possessions, opportunities, what do you get?

With all of this said, I would challenge you this week to start to incorporate a gratitude practice into your day to day life. And rather than thinking about gratitude as something you have to do, turn it into something you can joyfully practice. In this instance, practice does not make perfect, practice teaches us to love the process and the imperfect result.

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