How to Start a Practice of Gratitude | Erica Ives | Mindfulpath | Mental Health Awareness
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
How to Start a Practice of Gratitude: Mental Health Awareness
Written by Erica Ives
How to Start a Practice of Gratitude to Improve Mental Health
We have all heard of a gratitude practice, whether it was from the early days of Oprah Winfrey, the best-seller self-help book, from a therapist, or even your close friend or neighbor. Either way, a gratitude practice never goes out of style or gets old.
I began my gratitude practice to help improve mental health with simply acknowledging the overall things I was grateful for, be it my family, the ocean, my morning cup of coffee, the sunrise, the sunset, my friends and my clients. Over many years, my gratitude practice has expanded to acknowledge the smallest of things simply because they impact me to some capacity. I noticed I really integrated my gratitude practice into my work as a therapist and I encourage my clients to do the same with gratitude practice to help improve mental health. Some give gratitude for the more noticeable things such as their favorite food, travel spot, significant other and some give gratitude for the more inconspicuous things that we don’t think about on a regular basis, but either way the benefits of gratitude are immense.
And then, as time passed, a curious thing happened. This thing called gratitude, was and is actually changing our brain. I truly began to see things differently and think more abundantly than sparingly. Slowly, over time I have awakened to the genuine value of health, the capacity in which I am able to love, the beautiful sound in the wind, deep breaths, and the way water feels when it is going down my throat. Gratitude for the miracle of the inner working of our bodies, the sound of laughter, and the wide array of music we have accessible to us at the snap of our fingers. And something happened, something changed, and while it was not overnight, it has been an expansive practice. Slowly over time I have come to see that, even during times of pain, suffering, and loneliness, we are actually always connected to someone or something, stronger than we know, and are rich beyond words. I have learned what a powerful tool a gratitude practice to help improve mental health actually has.
Here’s what I have learned about starting a gratitude practice:
Resistance does NOT mean a lack of readiness so do not wait for the resistance to disappear. In fact, resistance may just mean it is something new and starting any new skill can be met with apprehension. A gratitude practice to help improve mental health is a spiritual practice that gains impetus and fuel over time and with practice. Practice is the only way to gain mastery so you just have to put your mind to it and then do it! Even if you feel like you just cannot transition into gratitude and have to force yourself to engage into your gratitude practice, it is still incredibly powerful.
It just starts with a pen and paper or your hands on your keyboard followed by four words, “I am grateful for…” Often times your mind becomes a blank or the judgments begin on the ideas you have. It is expected for these feelings to occur, especially as you are initially easing into your practice. Maybe you will have to stop there and just pause for a moment because your mind is a blank. Either way, stay with the intention to be in gratitude and begin the action of getting it from your head to your hands. Something inside you will eventually shift if you allow it too. The words will come and you need to get them down even if you have a judgment. It is okay if you write the same thing down time and time again if that is what you feel grateful for. Once the practice of creating a gratitude practice to help improve mental health becomes more habitual, you can begin to think out of the box.
3. Embody it.
It is not unusual to feel fear with this practice. Fear is just a feeling and just like a wave, all feelings come and go. It is about walking through that uncomfortable feeling versus walking around it, over it, or under it. Your gratitude list can actually serve as a transition from fear, pain, or suffering to a place of calm on the other side. Gratitude practice to help improve mental health. Even if you are not feeling connected to what it is you are writing, do it anyway. And when you can muster up the feeling of gratitude in your heart, let it permeate and infiltrate through your entire body. Place your hands on your heart, take some deep breaths, and begin to move yourself into the feeling. Create a visual and close your eyes to imagine it or keep them open and focus on something in the room or the visual that equates to what it is you are grateful for. SAY it aloud, SCREAM it aloud, or even SING it aloud,“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.”
4. Pick a consistent time of day.
Use this consistent time daily to write your gratitude list, but also keep that pen and paper handy because you never know when you may connect to feeling grateful. You may want to do this when you first wake in the morning or just before bed or even both. Try out both times a day and see what vibrates most with you.
As you move through your day, pause now and then when you remember, and think as you do` something “I am grateful for.” I like to do this with my morning cup of coffee or evening cup of tea. Think about holding and sipping your tea or coffee cup with gentle love and appreciation before you take your first sip. Moving through your day with awareness in this way will mean that when you do sit down to write your gratitude list those things will come to mind. Attempt to stay mindful throughout the day.
6. Practice out of the moment gratitude.
A good way to start this practice may begin with a reminder that alerts you on your phone. It can be a simple reminder to take a couple of deep breaths and think about something that has worked for you thus far in the day. So maybe you made it to a doctor appointment you scheduled some time ago and your alert sounds. Think about all that has occurred before you were actually sitting in the waiting room such as getting there on time or showing up even though you wanted to cancel, following through with your commitment to exercise that morning, how much you enjoyed your am meal, or making that phone call you have been procrastinating. Then think, “What about that am I grateful for.” For instance, your ability to follow through, the miracle of the way your body moved during exercise, the availability of the type of food you ate, or even the cell phone or e-mail. These are types of gratitude when you begin to think outside of the box.
7. Connect with others to share the gratitude.
Partner with someone and help each other stay accountable. It is so helpful to have that gentle reminder or words of encouragement from someone you trust and are able to hear that from. This may help give you the drive you need to write your list on those days when it just seems too hard. You can even share your lists with one another. Just keep adding to that list on a daily basis, even if you write the same thing twenty times. It is actually very encouraging to continually see your progress.
8. Keep the momentum going.
It is common to think that once you have seen results then it is a good time to take a break but truth being told, there is never a break in gratitude. Don’t stop because you think that you have thought about everything you can be grateful for because a new day can bring a different perspective and new experiences. You may see a sunset everyday, but you might notice the slightest different nuance the next day that will activate a new feeling of gratitude.
9. There is no such thing as perfection.
Miss a day here and there. If you do stop for a couple or few days, just start again and I believe you will be pleasantly surprised that when you bring yourself back into the gratitude practice to help improve mental health, it will quickly regain its momentum. Someone once told me that if I could not think of anything to write or went into my head as a critic for not staying true to my commitment, just write “I am grateful I am writing my gratitude list” five times. Simply start where you left off and know that it only gets easier and becomes part of your daily self-dialogue.
Try it, what do you have to lose.
My warmest regards,
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