2020 Mental Health Toolkit, Part 2: Gratitude
Strategies for Cultivating Gratitude
Looking for a way to stay sane and grounded this COVID holiday season? Intentionally practicing gratitude has proven to not only boost your spirits on a daily basis, but can also change the pathways in your brain to help you become a happier person in general. While gratitude doesn’t always come naturally, as we may lend our attention to life events that bring out negativity or fear, it’s an emotion that – if regularly practiced – can lead to more satisfaction in our lives.
It’s easy to relate to those around us about the swift changes that COVID has brought to our communities, perhaps dwelling on more of things that we miss, worries or concerns more than the good things that have come from it. While this holiday season may look different than ones passed, concentrating on what you’re grateful for means you’ll undoubtedly find joy in it.
If you’re looking to direct your attention to gratitude, and away from stress or negativity, here are a couple of ways you can try to recognize your blessings and invite more positivity into your life:
A gratitude list is one of the easiest ways to integrate gratitude into your everyday life. If you’ve got five minutes to spare with your morning coffee, grab a pen and get going. (Don’t be surprised if you find the rest of your day feels full of joy and steadiness!)
Here are a few to help you get started:
- List 3 things you are grateful for at this very moment
- List 3 simple pleasures you’re grateful for
- List 3 things that happened over the past weeks you’re grateful for
- List 3 fond memories you’re grateful for
- List 3 life lessons you’re grateful for
A Sensory or Memory Stroll
A stroll is another way you can squeeze in a gratitude practice with your daily dose of fresh air. Take your time to notice the small intricacies in nature or life around. Let yourself find wonder and compassion for the way things are – beautiful in their own right. Or take a memory stroll, where you recall an important and positive life event. Without that positive event, where would you be? Be grateful for those puzzle pieces that enabled that event. This practice may help you develop more empathy, positivity and boost your self-esteem.
Journaling is a great way to organize your thoughts, reflect and figure out emotions. Go back to your gratitude list and dive a little deeper- write out the details and shine up those pearly memories! Why is it that those fond moments stand out the way they do?
Another exercise to try is writing a letter to someone you appreciate. You don’t ever have to give it to them, but if you could be your raw, authentic self, what would you want them to know? While you may decide to keep it to yourself, the act of handing it over could double the amount of gratitude for everyone involved. To switch places, was there a time someone lifted you up, encouraged you or expressed their appreciation for you? How did the act of kindness make you feel?
A Gratitude Board
This is similar to a vision board, but instead of images of things you hope to come about in life or that you want to make happen, this is a group of images (or words) that help remind you of what you’re grateful for. Keeping this somewhere like on your work desk, next to a vanity, or maybe just a few small images on your dashboard means your eyes will frequently be feasting on gratitude.
Sometimes we eat on the go, whip something together ‘quick’ as to have time for other activities, but mindful eating and cooking is a way to ground you in gratitude. I mean, how far did those veggies have to travel to be in your hands? Someone took the time to transform that seed into what you’ve got in front of you, and you should be grateful for that. Was it you that grew it from your garden? Even more reason to celebrate it and YOU!
A mindful eating ritual begins with establishing a conscious awareness of what and how you’re eating. SIT DOWN to eat- and perhaps share the meal with others. Before digging in, sit with your food or company for a moment and maybe even say some words of gratitude. Let thoughts of appreciation come over you about the smell, presentation or even giving thanks to the person who prepared it.
Savor your bites, noticing the texture and aromas. You are filling yourself up, so FEEL that nourishment. Don’t rush through this; take your time (enjoy that runny egg pop!). You may find that using chopsticks will help you from ‘scarfing’ and promote your present moment awareness.
Set aside a time each day, or a certain day of the week, to engage in mindful eating and see how it can become almost second nature.
Celebrate Your Gratefulness for YOU!
Lastly, don’t forget to be grateful for YOU too! Take a break and remember to breathe. Indulge in self-massage, do yoga, make time for your favorite hobby, dance around to a feel-good song once a day, get back to that book you’ve been ignoring and TURN OFF THAT PHONE! Less screen time = more presence.