This is a part of The Cultivate Project. A once a month project where I explore mindsets and practices we can cultivate and nurture to bring more care to ourselves and others.
It may be cliché that I’m choosing to talk about gratitude at this time of year, but I think it’s important. While well meaning ideas on gratitude through November and Thanksgiving Day are great, I think we tend to go back to our old mindsets and anxieties very soon after. Often with the busyness of the holidays our old ways of complaint and narrow perspective are compacted. So I want to make sure, that when you begin this month thinking about gratitude, you carry it over into the holidays and make it a true life changing habit.
Cultivating gratitude, I believe, is hands down the number one thing you can do for self care. Cultivating gratitude consistently brings a peacefulness, an assurance, and happiness that becomes more an awareness and an automatic mindset inherent in every day. Often though in the beginning it may seem more silly and useless, kind of like sitting in stillness (go back and listen to that episode through the link in the show notes). But I promise, it may seem like it’s nothing, especially since it’s so easy, but it is creating new neural pathways and new habits in perspective that will uplift you. You’ll find yourself complaining less, connecting better with other people and finding more opportunities. Rather than floundering in a stuck place, you’ll find ways out and you’ll become open to possibilities you didn’t see before.
So how do we cultivate gratitude? Start simply, by writing down 3 things every day that you’re grateful for. That’s it you say? Yep, that’s it. Every day for 30 days write down 3 things. Yes, write it down. Putting the words out into the world does something I can’t explain. It makes it real. And don’t just do this flippantly. Reach into your heart and listen to what your heart is loving right now. What is making you feel good and what is it in your life that makes you happy.
Sometimes this can be hard. When you feel overwhelmed and nothing is going right, how can you be grateful for anything that day. The days where your anxiety and fear are in high gear. Trust me though, these are the days you really should be doing it. And on these days there are 2 things I recommend: First start so simple that anyone could be grateful for it. For instance, many times I wrote down I was grateful for the shoes that I own, or the coat I own. I was grateful that I could make pancakes for my girls that morning. In other words find something, anything as little and silly as it may be. Second, be grateful for something in the future, something that might make your day or situation better. It sounds crazy but writing it down and putting it into the world makes it real. Are you anxious for a bill to be paid, write down you are grateful for the money to pay that bill. Are you anxious about a solution you can’t seem to find at work? Write down you are grateful for a solution and the wisdom to make that solution.
This is the first step, writing down 3 things we are grateful for. Another habit to cultivate gratitude is to start taking notice of your thoughts. First take notice of when you are complaining, or anxious, stressed, or generally in a negative funk. Take that thought, acknowledge whether it is valid or not and let it go for a moment (I’ve found for myself these thoughts often are not valid and just a habit or me overanalyzing or assuming the worse). Then, think of something you are grateful for. It of course can be super simple. And you don’t have to feel happy, you just need to say it. I do this with my girls when they start complaining. I stop them and acknowledge their unhappiness and ask them if there is something they can do. If there isn’t and they’re just complaining because it’s a habit (often that’s the case) I acknowledge ok, they’re not liking that but can they tell me one good thing right now.
We can also cultivate gratitude by doing everything with a sense of gratitude. This is another level we can add that I’m just now beginning to grasp. Let me say it again: Everything you do, do with a sense of gratitude. Gotta pay that super high heating bill? Pay it with a heart of gratitude that you have the money to pay it. Gotta go help a coworker sort through a mess he made in a project? Help him with gratitude that you know what you are doing and are able to help him.
Recently this cultivation practice hit me when I took my oldest girl shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding. She is in that in between stage for sizes and we moved towards the junior section and away from the kids section in the store as we hunted for a dress she liked. She found one in the junior section, tried it on and loved it. Let me fill you in though if you don’t know this already. Junior section clothes come with a price tag kids clothes don’t. I didn’t expect this. Instead I expected to pay kids prices for a dress. So when we got to the register and the dress rang up twice as much as I had in my mind, I about fell over. My girl also about fell over with me and she looked at me with the biggest eyes. I asked her if she really loved it. She said yes. Then it occurred to me I was truly grateful I had the money to pay for it. It was twice the money I expected but I found myself grateful I could pay. We both left with a happy heart even though my bank account was twice the amount less than I expected. This is what I mean when I say do everything with a sense of gratitude.
I think often most of us, (and this was my deal for a long long time) give charitably only because we should. Or because someone else really needs our money so we hand it over. But we don’t have a sense of gratitude when we give. Instead we think of all the other things we could use that money for. But here’s the thing, we’re totally missing the boat when we give in this way. Giving with happiness and opening ourselves to being grateful for the ability to give and make someone else better, makes it easier to let the river flow but gives us a connection to those we’re giving to. Giving either begrudgingly or without much care creates a wall or a one time transaction that doesn’t fill us up or uplift us in any way. Giving gratefully does the opposite in creating a connection you’ll remember, and as the habit ensues, you’ll be more and more willing to give because of the happiness it creates for you and for others.
Begin cultivating this practice of gratitude for 30 days and you’ll see the difference. Begin small by writing 3 grateful things a day, or if you’re already doing that, try shifting your mindset when a complaint pops into your head. Or try going into everything with a sense of gratitude.
Personally the biggest difference I notice is when I fall out of the habit and fall back into my old ways of thinking. Suddenly things aren’t good, or they seem like I’m going backwards. Usually then I’m aware I need to go back to cultivating gratitude. So I sit down and write 3 things I’m grateful for to start.
And I truly think it’s a lifetime habit. One where you may need to write it down everyday or maybe you don’t but in quiet moments you take the time to think through what you are grateful for. When you get on the path where you begin automatically noticing when something that would be bothersome is a chance to have a different perspective, then you know cultivating gratitude is working in your life.