It’s that time of year when gratitude takes center stage for one brief day… where we stop everything in the middle of life’s busyness to reflect, enjoy family and friends, and name what we’re grateful for. For one Thursday each year in America, we sit together with family and friends to embrace gratitude. Then, on Friday morning, we slip back into our get-more, do-more, need-more lives, and gratitude’s flame flickers away until next year.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’re all ungrateful. Here’s the reality, though. Living a grateful life can be challenging – especially coming out of the past couple of years. The pandemic has added additional stress and struggles for many of us. Relationships have experienced challenges, our work lives have been turned upside-down, and there’s a division in the air that may even find its way to your Thanksgiving dinner alongside the gravy. In the middle of all that chaos, conversations about gratitude can be tough to have. Don’t tell me to be grateful when my life feels like a mess.
I get it.
Here’s my take on this, though. As someone who has gone through some challenges in life, being intentional to refocus on what I’m thankful for has helped get me through the storms. Gratitude has kept me anchored when life’s waters get choppy and the waves are crashing all around me. I’m not saying gratitude is easy in those moments. But, I am saying it is worth pursuing.
If we’re honest, we can all agree we have a natural bent toward what we want rather than what we have. We all have a selfish itch we’re trying to scratch. It may sting a little to hear that, but there’s some level of truth in it, at least for me. As much as I want to live a grateful life, practicing daily gratitude requires being intentional and focused. Rockets need fuel to take flight, and gratitude requires fuel as well.
Here are nine things I do to fuel my own gratitude…
Make a list. For me, this is one of the most powerful ways to fuel my gratitude. Multiple times each year, I intentionally block some time and go to a spot with no distractions. My phone gets turned off, I step away from my desk and the emails, and I get focused on all the things in my life that I am thankful for. This isn’t a five-minute exercise for me. I give myself at least an hour to make my list. You may be thinking, “I don’t have time for something like this.” You’re wrong. You don’t have time NOT to. Based on personal experience, the list becomes something I can come back to in life’s challenges when I need to reflect on what I have vs. what I don’t. It’s my fuel when things get tough. Here’s a link to the Gratitude worksheet I use for this exercise.
Send a note. Whether it’s a note in the mail, a text message, or a phone call, reach out to someone you’re thankful for and tell them you’re grateful for their place in your life. Saying “thank you” is an easy way to make someone else’s day and, at the same time, do something amazing for yourself. Every note you send is also a simple reminder of something you have in your life to be grateful for. Make a moment to tell someone how much you appreciate their impact in your life.
Live an “I GET TO” life. When we can turn the things we “have to” do into things we “get to” do, our perspective shifts. By simply changing the language we use in our heads, we can take an activity that we dread and turn it into something with more purpose and meaning – something we can be grateful for. Here’s a quick example. “I HAVE TO take the kids to their practice.” has turned into “I GET TO take the kids to their practice.” When my mindset changed, so did the experience of driving my kids where they needed to go. It became one of the highlights of my week.
Create daily reminders. Our lives are busy. Whether you’re running a business, staying home with your kids, or you’re a student, we’re all trying to juggle many balls at one time. Often, that juggling takes all our attention and focus, and it’s all we can think about. When we’re focusing on all the balls that are in the air, we can forget to be grateful. Sometimes, the solution is something as simple as creating a daily reminder on your phone that pops up and asks you, “What are you thankful for right now?”
Turn off the noise. Noise reduction is a constant theme for me in my writing, and on the Grit Meets Growth podcast I share with Chris Cathers. We’re all getting bombarded daily by negativity. It comes at us in so many ways – on social media, in the news, even the lyrics of the music we listen to. If we allow it to, the noise hijacks our joy, positivity, and ability to be grateful. The alternative? Turn off the noise. By taking control of what we’re letting in, we position ourselves for more joy, more positivity, and more gratitude in our lives.
Get outside. Want to create space for more gratitude? Put down what you’re doing, step away from your desk or the noise, and go outside. Walk, run, hike, climb, paddle, surf, skate, ski, fish, hunt, or even just sit in the sun. Choose an activity that fills you up and spend some time being grateful for the light on your face, the air in your lungs, the blood flowing through your heart, and how your body works.
Lean into your faith. My Christian faith has led me down a path of gratitude. From the wisdom I’ve found in the words of my Bible to the many times I have experienced God showing up in my circumstances, faith and gratitude are woven together tightly for me. When I’m looking to refocus on my gratitude, refocusing on my faith comes with for the ride.
Reflect backward and look forward. There are times in my life that I would refer to as low points. My divorce was one of these. Reflecting backward, I felt like my life was crashing. Looking forward, my divorce was the closing of one door and the opening of another – and led to my marriage with Cristina, which I am thankful for every day. Today, I’ve also come to see the story of my divorce as something I can share with other men who are navigating similar challenges. With that perspective, I am flooded with massive amounts of gratitude. Reflecting backward allows me to flip the script and recognize the silver linings in my forward.
Journal. I have had times in my life where I have been disciplined at journaling and others where I have not. I’ve tried to make a habit of spending just a few minutes at the end of each day writing down three things I am thankful for. It creates space for me to review my day, refocus on what was good, and prepare my mind for the day to come. Here’s what I know. The act of sitting down and physically using my hand to write what I am grateful for makes those things sticky in my mind. The science behind journaling runs deep, and its impact on gratitude is proven.
There are three takeaways for all of us today. First, gratitude is something that should not be reserved for the cold days of November. It should be a 24/7/365 practice… even in the most challenging moments of our lives. Second, practicing gratitude requires being intentional and taking some action to create space for it. And third, there are many ways to bring intentional gratitude into our lives. There’s no single, easy one-size-fits-all solution, but at the end of the day living with gratitude is something we should all be moving toward in our own way. Choose one or two of the ideas from above and weave them into the weeks, months, and year ahead.
Ready for more?
Follow me here for more insights like this one, weekly encouragement, and help creating more gratitude. You can also listen in on the Grit Meets Growth podcast here or on your favorite podcast platforms. Make it a great day! – John