Boosting Joy with Gratitude: Practical Steps to Build a Meaningful Practice

Are you longing for more joy in your life?  Joy that comes in waves and sustains you even during difficult times?  This kind of joy could be within your reach.  And you won’t find it by having an impressive career, filling a large bank account, raising successful kids, working out to physical perfection, or even surrounding yourself with lots of people. A joyful life is rooted in a practice of gratitude.

This is a daily habit which gradually becomes a perspective on life.  You learn to appreciate your life exactly as it is and celebrate the small moments you tend to take for granted.  It’s not about constantly being happy because that is an emotion that comes and goes like all emotions.  It’s about finding the joy in yourself and your life in small doses that build.

Researchers have found that practicing gratitude has a number of benefits including improved physical health, increased empathy, reduced aggression, enhanced relationships, positive mood, and boosted productivity.  It may sound too good to be true.  But the fact is that the greater appreciation we feel in our lives, the more positively we approach challenges both within ourselves and in our world.

If you are interested in building your own gratitude practice, these strategies may help get you started in creating a habit you can sustain.

Creating a Gratitude Practice

  • Daily practice. Plan to set aside time each day (or almost daily) to really focus on your day’s highlights.  This creates the habit of looking for moments of gratitude throughout the day to later celebrate.  Pair it with a habit you already have to improve your chances of sticking to it.  You could spend two minutes reviewing your gratitudes before scrolling through your emails or brushing your teeth.  Perhaps you pause from social media to count your own highlights rather than the hightlights of others.
  • Create a record. It’s important to document your gratitudes as a means of recognizing their importance and reviewing them on occasion. You might jot them down in a notebook or the notes section of your phone.  You might represent them as doodles or songs.  You might write them on slips of paper you keep in a jar.  However you choose to document your gratitude, take a moment on occasion to look back and review your positive moments. Notice how great it feels to see them all laid out together.
  • Share the experience. Consider sharing your gratitudes with someone you trust.  You could review gratitudes at the family dinner table or create a text string with close friends.  This adds the benefit of bringing someone in to witness the day’s highlights and share the celebrations together. It also creates accountability to keep one another on track with this practice.
  • Be specific. The more personal your gratitudes are, the more powerful they are in building your sense of joy.  Make a practice of noticing the specific, small moments in your day worth celebrating.  A meaningful gratitude practice shifts how you look at your daily life to sharpen your focus on the highlight reel.

Many people struggle to know what to be thankful for beyond the obvious or generic ideas of good health, friendship, safety.  Looking a bit deeper, you will find that there are precious things to be thankful for throughout your life and your days.  This list below is by no means exhaustive but may serve as a helpful inspiration in identifying all you can be thankful for in your world just as it is.

Finding Your Gratitudes

Gratitude for yourself.  A meaningful gratitude practice must include conscious celebrations of your own daily victories.  We are often so entrenched in a habit of pointing out our personal flaws that we completely disregard the moments when we are shining.  This is a path to misery and low self-esteem. Instead, try noticing how often you are really growing, managing challenges well, and adding light to the world.  Celebrate your efforts to take better care of yourself and create more positive habits.  You might be grateful for going to a social event you’d typically avoid, for planning ahead with a crockpot meal on a busy evening, for going to bed early so you can feel your best.

Gratitude for physical wellness.  Appreciating good health means more than the absence of illness.  In fact, practicing gratitude can be especially important in the face of chronic health conditions or illness.  Notice the moments in your day when your body is working for you.  Recognize what feels good in your body and the efforts you make to improve your wellness.  You might be grateful for taking a walk during lunch, for having strong arms to carry your child, for the moments of relief during a hot bath.

Gratitude for community.  Emotional wellness is strongly tied to feel part of a supportive community.  Take a moment to recognize the people in your life who lift you up, ease your burdens, share your joys each day.  Notice people who are near and far, familiar and strangers.  You might be grateful for the kind smile of the teenager who held a door open for you, for the availability of a friend when you called, for being able to offer support to a family member.

Gratitude for resiliency.  We all encounter tough moments in life. Often these difficult events are outside of our control, unpredictable, or overwhelming.  Finding gratitude in the toughest times is when it’s most important. Resiliency means we are stretched without breaking and can bounce back in a way that maintains our strength and integrity.  Choosing to express gratitude for our ability to stretch and recover in the face of challenges increases our sense of well-being and builds our confidence in weathering future storms.  Instead of focusing our mental and emotional energy of things outside of our control or beating ourselves up for mistakes already made, we can choose to focus on what we learn in the midst of the tough moments.  You might be grateful for choosing to apologize to your spouse after an argument, for the persistence to keep submitting job applications after rejections, for your child’s emotional recovery after a meltdown to enjoy a peaceful bath.

Gratitude for the natural world.  Taking time to notice the beauty in your natural world can be very grounding.  We often take for granted what is all around us.  Tune into your senses each day for just a moment to notice what your natural world has to offer.  You might be grateful for a pastel sunset you saw while crossing a parking lot, for a cool breeze as you finished your run, for the rain that grows the plants.

Gratitude for ease.  We are all supported by invisible or silent things in our daily lives that we simply never bother to notice.  Make the effort to tune into the people and things that ease your daily experience and see how it fills you with appreciation.  You might be grateful for the comfy shoes that help you walk all day, for the garbage collectors who often do their work invisibly, for the hot tea that helped you relax at the end of the difficult day.

Once you start developing a daily practice of gratitude, you will find yourself going through a world looking out for moments to appreciate while they’re happening.  You will notice and feel more goodness in your daily life which helps you offer more to others as well.

Please note that if you are unable to find moments of gratitude over the course of a few days, this may indicate you are in the midst of depression or another mental health struggle.  Seek professional help from mental health providers or your physician to address this underlying concern, because mood disorders are treatable.

Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. for Lakefront Psychology Blog.  If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, wellness, perinatal mood, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below.  If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Lakefront Psychology, LLC for a psychotherapy consultation, please call 216-870-9816.

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