The importance of gratitude in life was lost on me for years. But, when I started learning about how to rewire my anxious brain to find more peace, gratitude was a big part of that journey
Living with anxiety for 30 years was exhausting.
At times it felt like it didn’t matter what I did, what was good in my life, what I had accomplished. All of it could just unravel with a single panic attack.
A few years ago I started my mission to find peace and calm.
To rewire my brain and approach my next 40 years completely differently than I had lived my previous 40 years.
Most of that was motivated by wanting to finally rid my life of anxiety. Some of it was inspired by wanting a higher level of success in my life and some of it was inspired by wanting a higher quality of life.
All of it sent me down a path of self-development, self-discovery, and greater emotional intelligence. I’m still learning on a daily basis.
And, I’m still being challenged on a daily basis. We all are. We all are challenged by our schedules, our relationships, our responsibilities, our expectations, and our minds.
This blog Your Next 40 Years is my way of sharing what I’m learning on this journey.
I feel like I’ve made it to base camp and there are a lot of people that I can help to make it to base camp. I’m still climbing and I might not ever reach the summit.
But the climb and the journey is where the real work and the real strength comes from.
So today I want to talk with you about embracing the importance of gratitude in life and feeling grateful on a daily basis. And how much that can impact your mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
Why should you practice gratitude?
I’m always talking about health benefits and emotional and mental benefits of certain activities, habits, rituals, and daily tasks. So it’s no surprise that there are scientifically proven benefits to practicing gratitude. Things like more positive emotions, sleep better, have stronger immune systems, feel more alive, and share more kindness and compassion with others.
And these are just a few of the benefits.
Most of us don’t stop to feel grateful or express gratitude on a daily basis. We restrict it to big events in our lives, like a promotion, a new house, having a baby, getting married, et cetera.
But there are things that happen every single day that you can feel grateful for.
The other morning I was laying in bed. My six year old had been up all night throwing up. He had a fever so high that he had gone sleepwalking down the hall and peed in the kitchen garbage can.
So, it was 4:30 in the morning and I was laying in bed. He was laying next to me and all of a sudden I realized that it was raining outside and I just cracked my bedroom window and listened to the sound of the rain.
And I felt so grateful for that moment.
Even though I was exhausted. I had been up all night cleaning up piles of puke. My little guy was laying there all sweaty, breaking a fever.
I had a list of things that I needed to get done at work and I had to start doing those things in just a few hours. But laying there listening to the rain just filled me with so much peace and happiness and gratitude that it made all of those other things seem minuscule in comparison.
That clearly illustrates the importance of gratitude in life.
Gratitude is magic. And it can shift your whole state of being in just a few seconds.
How Do We Practice Gratitude?
When I first started, the hardest part of practicing gratitude for me was doing it consistently, making it a consistent daily habit. And this was true for me about all of the lifestyle changes that I made. I had been living my life in a certain way. It was familiar. I had daily habits.
I had a way of existing and moving through each day that felt comfortable. I didn’t really value the importance of gratitude in life.
The problem was moving through my day in that way with those habits and routines always led to a panic attack or anxiety to the point of being exhausted and unable to function.
So I knew that I needed to make change. I knew my “why”, and it was very clear to me. There was a lot of emotional connectivity between me and my “why”.
So I just started thinking of ways that I could create these new habits. These ways helped me build a consistent daily habit of practicing gratitude. And I know that they will help you not only start but also stick to a daily gratitude practice.
Start a gratitude journal
This was the very first thing that I did. I bought a gratitude journal and the journal included gratitude prompts. One page would be a story about the forest and then next to it was a blank page for me to write what I was grateful for about the forest.
The next page would be about the stars and a little story about the stars and then a prompt asking me, to write why I’m grateful for the stars.
A gratitude journal is great for beginners because it makes the process so easy. And, it starts to really illustrate the importance of gratitude in life.
All you’re really doing is answering a question. What is it about the stars that you are grateful for? What is it about the forest that you feel gratitude about?
Just writing something like “I’m grateful for my family” week after week after week doesn’t really make the connection. Of course, you’re grateful for your family and you feel love for them.
But really deepening your gratitude practice into feeling grateful for the elastic in your underwear. That’s when your gratitude practice can really have some powerful benefits for your brain. Reducing stress and anxiety in your life.
It’s important to practice gratitude all throughout the day, but it’s difficult to remember to practice. This is why having a consistent daily action that you take helps you to schedule the time and block it. For instance, when you’re just starting out, you might say, I am going to write in my gratitude journal every morning.
Or you might say, I am going to make a little video clip on my phone every day at lunch and say what I’m grateful for. You could also say every night before I go to bed, I’m going to look at myself in the mirror and say three things that I was grateful for that happened that day.
You just have to make sure that you’re being realistic about how often you’re going to remember to practice gratitude.
So by blocking these little checkpoints, when you are making yourself accountable, and honoring the importance of gratitude in life.
Because you know, “Oh, tonight I’m going to have to tell myself three things that I was grateful for.” So you’re going to be more mindful about what’s going on in your day and whether or not there’s anything about it that you can feel grateful for.
If you’re going to make a gratitude video clip on your lunch break, then you’re going to be more mindful about events throughout the day.
And, you’re going to look at those events through the lens of gratitude. Because you know that you’re going to have to make a video clip talking about what you felt grateful for.
These checkpoints help to deepen your gratitude practice.
Because it might be something like, “I felt so grateful that there were enough paper towels in the ladies’ room this morning and I didn’t have to dry my hands on my brand new skirt.”
That’s not something that you would normally even really think about. You would just grab the paper towels, dry your hands, and leave the bathroom.
But, when you know that you have to make a video clip that afternoon or look at yourself in the mirror that night, you’re going to be going through your day and through these experiences and interactions with the gratitude lens.
And you’re going to be asking yourself, “Is this something that I truly feel grateful for”?
Don’t pigeonhole yourself
If you make gratitude videos on your lunch break, but you would much rather journal before you go to bed, feel free to switch it up.
Maybe you’re on vacation and making videos doesn’t work, so you want to write down your gratitude. Journaling starts to feel like it’s too much effort or energy. Your schedule has changed or you just would rather not write things down.
Feel free to start making videos or look at yourself in the mirror and say what you were grateful for.
You could even make a gratitude jar.
This is where you write your gratitude on a piece of paper and put it in the jar each time it occurs to you.
Then on your birthday or on New Year’s Eve, you can open the jar and read all of the things that happened that year that you felt grateful for.
Another option would be to send yourself an email for each thought of gratitude. And on your birthday, log into the email account and read all of the things that happened that year that you were grateful for.
The point is, practicing gratitude shouldn’t feel like homework. It can be a fun and inspiring activity.
Share your practice with others.
One great way to pay it forward and make gratitude spread is to share your gratitude with other people. This might mean posting your gratitude on social media or when you email yourself, Cc your friends and family. Share your journal with other people in your life and invite them to start practicing gratitude in their own lives.
How do you start gratitude?
The easiest way for most people is to start using a gratitude journal. Journaling has many health benefits. So using a journal for gratitude is a natural thing. If journaling is not your thing like I said go ahead and make videos, tell yourself in the mirror, make a jar. There are a lot of different mediums to use for your gratitude practice.
Once you’ve decided which medium you’re going to use for your gratitude practice, then you need to decide on a time. Whether it’s in the morning before work, at your lunch break, or in the evening before bed.
Maybe you go to a yoga class at night and you are going to say or think about all of the things that you are grateful for that day while you’re practicing yoga.
Next, it’s important to set an intention. An intention is stronger than a goal. So in my mind, you set a goal and then you set an intention and the intention just up levels the goal and builds momentum behind it. Practicing gratitude is a big part of creating an intentional life and finding a higher purpose.
When you set an intention, you attach an emotion to the goal.
You think about how things in your life will suck if you don’t reach this goal. And then you think about how things in your life will be amazing when you do reach this school.
Gratitude is important because practicing gratitude is magic and so you definitely want to be doing it on a daily basis. You definitely want it to become an effortless habit.
Practicing gratitude is something that you can do as part of your mid-life self-care day routine
Do what you can to remove the friction.
If journaling is not your thing, use a different medium. Maybe you need a journal with gratitude prompts. Go to Barnes and noble and find one. If you detest writing anything before bedtime, do it in the morning.
Do what you can to remove the friction and make the process something that doesn’t feel like homework or a chore. It’s something that after time slowly becomes inspiring to you. The importance of gratitude in life is worth working through the bumps at first.
Seven simple ways to embrace the importance of gratitude.
These are just a few ways that I found to make practicing gratitude on a daily basis easier. Once you get into the habit of doing it, the process will happen more effortlessly.
You’ll suddenly find yourself stopping to appreciate the way a tree root has grown up out of the sidewalk and feel grateful for its determination. (true story!)
Practicing gratitude changes the way that you look at the world and the way that you experience life. And, it is an absolutely beautiful change.
Identify three things that you appreciate and feel grateful for about your life.
It doesn’t matter if these things are past tense or present or even things that you want to have happen in the future. There is no part of these three things that need to be spectacular and there’s nothing too big or too small.
Just the most important thing is to take some time to be really, really specific, about the details. Write about what things look like, smell like, how you feel.
Use details and be specific. Don’t overthink just brain dump on three things that you appreciate and feel grateful for about your life.
Identify three to four things that you probably are taking for granted. But when you think about it, you’re actually very grateful for
We all take things for granted on a daily basis. We don’t mean to, we’re not doing it to be mean or heartless. It’s just there’s a lot that happens in our lives each day and it’s easy to take things for granted.
But now that you’re starting a gratitude practice, it’s your chance to stop taking things for granted. And connect with how grateful you are.
So, take a minute to identify those things that you normally take for granted. But, when it comes right down to it, you are really thankful for them.
Identify things that you appreciate about who you are and about yourself
These shouldn’t be things like, I have great eyes or, my feet are small. They should be things that are really on a deeper and more meaningful level. Your actions towards people, your relationships, your overall personality, your view of the world.
Anything that you feel grateful for about you and how you exist and how you move through each day.
Changing your mindset is a huge piece of living b(old) in Your Next 40 Years. And, the importance of gratitude in life cannot be taken for granted any longer.