Why is it so difficult to feel grateful sometimes? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful by saying that, but in all honesty, I tend to focus more on the negatives in life than on what’s going well. And as we head into Thanksgiving, the holiday season, and the end of 2018, it’s that time of year to practice some self-reflection, and yes, gratitude. Look, I get it: Practicing gratitude for Thanksgiving can sometimes feel insincere, especially when it’s sort of awkwardly forced upon you at the Thanksgiving dinner table by your weird, hippie aunt. But the truth is, it’s good for you to reflect on what you’re thankful for in life. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that, once it really clicks in your mind, you’ll probably want to start doing it outside of the Turkey Day dinner table.
Gratitude, in your mind, might just be another way to describe being #blessed, or again, maybe it’s just one of those things that only crosses your mind on Thanksgiving, and even then, it’s only because your mom forced everyone to go around the table and talk about what they’re thankful for, for the sheer sake of moving the conversation away from politics or family drama (or both).
But in reality, practicing gratitude really can make you a happier person overall. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology divided hundreds of undergraduate participants into different groups, some of whom were tasked with writing about their everyday "hassles" on a regular basis, others wrote about "neutral life events," and some listed what they were grateful for. Several weeks later, the researchers found that those who’d habitually wrote about gratitude showed "heightened well-being," and according to the study, the results "suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits."
So, how do you practice gratitude, you ask? Well, according to Julie Potiker, a mindfulness expert and author of the book Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To, one of the best ways to start the practice involves a suggestion that, admittedly, you’ve probably heard a thousand times — but for good reason. "Make yourself write longhand [about gratitude] instead of typing on a device," she tells Elite Daily in an email. "The physical act of writing has more benefits for your neural health than typing on a keyboard.”
Seriously, pick out a journal that inspires you, or even one that you think just looks really cool, and keep it by your bedside, as Potiker suggests that a good way to begin the practice from scratch is by making it in to a regular habit — i.e. writing gratitude lists in the morning and at night.
If all of this feels challenging at first, Potiker recommends taking mental notes throughout the day. "Notice times when you feel joy during the day," she explains. "Take in the good mental state for a couple of breaths, allowing the mental state to wire into a neural trait."
And listen, you don’t have to write a freaking novel every time you pick up your journal to jot down what you’re grateful for. Moreover, the actual things you write about being thankful for don’t even need to be that monumental or profound, Potiker explains. Sure, you probably do feel thankful for things like your family, or for the fact that you have a roof over your head, but according to the mindfulness expert, that really doesn’t have to be what you write about in this journal, at least not on a daily basis.
If you’re happy that the Seamless guy brought your cake in under 20 minutes, write it down. If you’re elated for your BFF because she landed a new job, make a note about it. If you’re simply admiring how the light streams into your room, that counts as something to be grateful for, too.
"Writing down what you are grateful for, or what you were doing when you felt joy, will open your heart to more happiness," Potiker tells Elite Daily. "If you can recreate the feeling of joy in your body when you remember the activity that you are writing about, and you let it fill you up with gladness, you are rewiring your brain for more happiness and resilience a second time from the same joyful activity."
Lisa Olivera, a therapist based in Oakland, California, adds that gratitude is all about self-compassion, and even though it does tend to be a sort of "me" focused practice, don’t forget — especially this time of year — that treating yourself with kindness often translates to treating others the exact same way.
"When we are kind to ourselves as often as possible, we are more able to show up fully for others," Olivera tells Elite Daily in an email. "Nourishing ourselves during the holiday season is so important, and sets us up for feeling a greater sense of calm and ease overall."
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