I was on my way to pick up my daughter from school the other day, poking along in busy late afternoon traffic as I headed due west on a local major thoroughfare. I noticed the stop and go traffic, the day-to-day busyness, and the hustle to get from here to there (and back again). I popped on a tune from a playlist I made for my daughter, and while I waited for traffic to edge forward on its own time I took a moment to observe the way the sunlight broke through the low hanging clouds, as though the universe was reminding me that there’s always sunshine even when there is darkness. At that moment I felt deeply grateful for this life — the opportunity to show up present each day for my kids, the blessing of having reliable transportation, the joy of music, this moment of solitude, and the heartfelt knowing that I am connected to something bigger than myself. It still warms my heart to reflect back on the feelings felt that day.
Science has spoken loud and clear about the benefits of gratitude. Beyond positively impacting life satisfaction and our overall sense of wellbeing, studies have shown that practicing gratitude can improve our relationships, physical health, and job performance. Gratitude leads to feeling more able and effective, an increased ability to weather stress, and heightened optimism about the future. Practicing gratitude builds resilience and connection with others and ourselves.
Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. It is often reported that with a regular and consistent mindfulness practice comes an increased feeling of appreciation and gratefulness for the little things in life. A gratitude practice, simply, is the practice of (1) paying attention, (2) reflecting upon what we are thankful for, and (3) expressing gratitude when the opportunity arises. In addition to incorporating mindful awareness into your daily life, here are a few more ideas about how you might increase your felt sense of gratitude.
1. Gratitude Tracking
Setting aside a time each day to reflect on the blessings in your life not only brings joy and appreciation to that moment, but also retrains your brain to see the world through the lens of gratitude automatically. Tracking your gratitude may involve traditional journaling, or might be more creative or interactive, like having a gratitude jar or posting about gratitude on social media. Consider adding a brief moment to reflect on all you are grateful for into your daily routine for one week and see what you notice!
2. Replacing “I am sorry” with “thank you”
We often find ourselves apologizing when we are late, forgetful, or under the weather. Welcome to the human condition! What if each time we feel the urge to apologize, we instead shift to expressing our gratitude for the patience or understanding of a friend? Shifting from judgment to appreciation can have a huge impact on how we view ourselves AND our ability to connect on a deeper, more intimate level with others.
3. Write a Gratitude Letter
Not only does gratitude impact our own emotional wellbeing in a positive way, but it can also bring joy and connection with others when expressed. Whether it be a small sticky note left on the desk of a colleague, a card in your child’s or partner’s lunchbox, or an email to a friend or family member who lives far away, sharing our gratitude is a gift for both ourselves and others. Making it a habit of saying thank you in ways both big and small is a powerful practice of love.
I don’t always connect with gratitude automatically, as I did on the day described in the above passage. Many days I am find myself swept up in “autopilot” mode, trying to navigate the hectic (and at times difficult and challenging) life I live. It is a practice, and one I am grateful to incorporate into my life.
Nicole Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches. Dr. Davis has received extensive training in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and maintains her own personal practice in these as well. At Sacred Treehouse, she facilitates group mindfulness courses, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, and other mindfulness-based seminars and workshops. She also offers meditation & yoga classes at Sacred Treehouse.