Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to pause and reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for. But the truth is, giving thanks shouldn’t be confined to just one season—spending time every day focusing on gratitude can have a huge impact on your health and well-being throughout the year.
Sometimes, of course, it’s easy. The big things in life—a nice vacation, a new home, a promotion at work, or a newborn baby—elicit excitement and gratitude just by their nature. But if you focus only on the big, less frequent events, you run the risk of overlooking the daily blessings, and you’ll miss opportunities to appreciate the richness of everyday life.
So try this: Be thankful for what you’re presented with today—whether it seems significant or small. Being grateful on a daily basis will help you have healthier relationships, increase your satisfaction with your current circumstances, and give you the ability to enjoy the little moments in life more fully.
It’ll have big benefits for your body, too: A positive mental state can lower your stress levels and improve your overall physical health. But without some positive thinking to balance out the trials and tribulations of your daily life, stress hormones can accumulate—leading to disorders of your autonomic nervous, hormonal, and immune systems. By focusing on the good in your life, you’re naturally relaxing your mind and body, and you can decrease the amount of stress you internalize.
Plus, there’s no practice more beneficial and beautiful then expressing gratitude each day. So, here’s how to get started—or get better at it.
Check In With Yourself
In order to experience a deeper sense of gratitude, you must first be aware of your current thoughts and emotions. You can’t always control the negative feelings and thoughts that arise, especially in high-stress or chaotic situations. So the goal, instead, is first to notice your feelings—whatever they are—and then to begin consciously conditioning your mind to have more relaxed, productive, and grateful thoughts.
To become more aware of your attitude, regularly ask yourself the following:
- Do I want more from someone or something?
- Am I waiting for something to happen in the future in order to be happy?
- Do I judge myself, criticize others, complain about situations, or carry disappointment, guilt, fear, worry, or anger?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, just recognize your response, but without judgment. Acknowledging and observing your thoughts is a powerful way to gain control of your mental state.
Once you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can start changing them for the better—refocusing from what’s lacking to what’s plentiful. Set aside time each day actively thinking about what it is that you’re thankful for.
Here are two techniques you can use to build gratitude into your daily routine, morning and night:
Start Your Day With Gratitude
Your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day, so it’s the perfect time to practice awareness and appreciation. First, make sure that you’re in a relaxed state. Take some deep, nourishing breaths to quiet your mind. Then, focus your attention on three things you’re grateful for now and three things that you’re looking forward to in the future—connecting with family, loved ones, or friends, learning something new at work, or having an opportunity to eat a good meal, for example. You can choose to think about them, say them out loud, or write them down.
As you’re doing this exercise, remember to pay attention to smaller miracles and joys that often get overlooked. (When was the last time you woke up and appreciated the sun for rising or thought about the farmers that grew the berries in your oatmeal?) There are an endless number of things to be thankful for—so if you’re having trouble thinking of something in the beginning, just relax and breathe. It will come to you.
Reflect on the Day
A nighttime gratitude practice is equally effective—reflecting on your thoughts and experiences from the day gives you space to find the beauty and unseen gifts in your life.
Of course, it’s not likely that each day will go smoothly or exactly as you planned—the ups and downs in life will never end. And when those rough days strike, you may think there’s nothing to be grateful for. But dig deeper. Take a few minutes before you settle in for the night to make a list or journal about the things that you are sincerely grateful for.
And challenge yourself: Take a closer look at things that originally triggered disappointment, or any other negative feeling, and try find something good in them.
Taking a few minutes each morning and night to express gratitude will help you find a more positive outlook on the rest of your day, too. And soon, you’ll reap the true long-term benefits—optimism, inner peace, and enhanced emotional and physical health. That’s already something to be thankful for.