The holiday season is just behind us, when millions of people took time to express gratitude. We paused, reflected, and acknowledged who and what we were most thankful for. It was as it always is: an almost magical time of year, when people surrounded themselves with loved ones and felt incredibly grateful.
Then we got back to business as usual. Once again, we’re rushing through our days, often mindlessly going through the motions of life from week to week. Amid all the stress of our busy days, and in our constant efforts to improve ourselves and better our lives, it’s easy to take much for granted, and to forget how great we really have it right now.
We truly have so much to be grateful for, and our lives are so much more fulfilling when we develop an attitude of gratitude that extends well beyond the holiday season and lasts all year.
Work on these 7 methods for how to train your brain to be more grateful, and you just might become thankful in your life again:
1. Shift your Perspective by Connecting with People from Different Backgrounds
Recently, my husband and I had a friend from Nicaragua named José staying at our house. During his time with us, José devoured pears and guzzled orange juice like they were going out of style, because most people in his community can’t afford to buy fruit. Pears and orange juice are luxuries to him. He doesn’t usually drink milk because he doesn’t own a cow and it’s too expensive at the store (which is many miles from his home, and he has no vehicle). He also told us eggs aren’t usually eaten by people from his hometown unless they have their own chickens.
Suddenly, the fact that my three young kids’ biggest problem at the moment was that I’d cut their grilled cheese sandwiches into triangles instead of squares became incredibly embarrassing.
José told us he attended college on Saturdays instead of weekdays, because his family needed him to work to support them the other days. On Saturdays, he woke up at 3 a.m. to bike 10 miles to a bus stop, and then rode a bus for hours, just to get to college. He jumped at the opportunity to learn and spoke of being so grateful to earn a degree.
José’s time at our house was brief, but having him there made a big impact on helping me appreciate all the things – large and small – that I normally take for granted on a daily basis.
You might not have a José in your life, but you certainly can connect with people – possibly even in your own backyard – who have very different backgrounds from yours. Sometimes all it takes is listening to someone else’s story to change your perspective and realize you have so much to be thankful for.
2. Focus on the Positives with a Gratitude Journal
Writing down what you’re grateful for helps you focus on the positives in your life, and keeping a gratitude journal is recommended by many experts. As your gratitude list grows, just looking at the list will often be enough to help you realize your life is pretty great.
Start writing down one thing you are thankful for every day. If you’d rather not write it in a journal, here’s another idea: write something you’re grateful for every day on a small piece of paper, and place the paper in a jar. When you’re feeling down, open the jar and look at all the reasons you have to be grateful. Or, open the jar at the end of the year, and review everything you were grateful for that year. This will help you start the next year with a mindset of thankfulness and abundance, rather than focusing on all the things you want to change in your life.
If you’re having trouble finding things to write about in your gratitude journal or jar, think about the conveniences you have in your daily life. You live in a time where you can connect instantaneously with anyone online. Free knowledge is available in thousands of books in your local library. Just reading this means you have internet access, and more importantly, the gift of sight.
Take a moment to appreciate the things in your daily life that you usually take for granted. You woke up this morning, you have food and water, and you have people who love you. These are wonderful blessings, and should help you see how easy it is to recognize all you have to be grateful for.
3. Change Your focus by Giving in Your Community
You have so much to give to the world, and can start making it a better place today. When you give to others in your community, you are changing your focus from yourself and your problems to what you can do to brighten someone else’s day. You are choosing to get out of your head. Choosing to support others can keep you from wallowing in self-pity, and will absolutely increase your gratitude.
Make a point to give regularly. It doesn’t have to be money. You can give your time, a helping hand, or words of encouragement. Each of us has something important to give to the world, and we all have different strengths and interests. Discover your favorite way to give, so it’s enjoyable and lights you up!
Giving in your community can make you feel grateful to be able to contribute. And, giving to those around you helps remind you that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. This connection with others will increase your sense of gratitude and fulfillment.
4. Grow through Adversity by Looking for Positives in Every Life Experience
True, this is easier said than done, especially if you’re going through a very difficult time. However, as hard as it can be in certain situations, when you choose to seek out the positives, even in the face of the greatest adversity, you will drastically change your overall outlook on life and set yourself up for success.
The next time you’re feeling down, pause and try to reflect on what’s good in this moment – anything from a nice memory to the fresh air. There is so much good in each day, no matter what else we may be going through. And, as you train your brain to see opportunities to be more grateful, your life will inevitably become more enjoyable.
5. Simply Say “Thank You” More Often
Make a point to express your gratitude to others. One great way to start is to set a goal of pausing once per day to give someone a sincere, heartfelt “thank you.” Rather than rushing through your day with a quick half glance and a “hey, thanks” to your helpful coworker, take a minute to make eye contact and say “thank you for being such a team player. I really appreciate it when you (fill in the blank).”
Expressing your thankfulness out loud will help you feel more grateful as you put into words what you are thankful for and might have only noticed in a passing way if you hadn’t verbalized it. Also, genuinely thanking people for specific things will help brighten their days as well!
6. Make Room in Every Day to Do Something You Love
Even if you’re completely overwhelmed with responsibilities and every day of your life is packed with obligations, find a way to take a few minutes to do something you love and really enjoy.
Actively work on making space in your life to do what lights you up – and get rid of the junk that’s unimportant whenever possible! It’s much easier to feel grateful in life when you are able to regularly spend time doing what you love, even if it’s only in isolated moments.
7. Elevate the Gratitude Around You by Surrounding Yourself with Positive People
Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Therefore, when you choose to surround yourself with people who are encouraging, inspiring, and grateful, you will begin adopting their attitudes.
Think about the people you spend the majority of your time with. Are they thankful? Or do they complain nonstop about trivial things? Choose your company wisely – you may gradually become similar to them.
If you’re ready to learn how to train your brain to be more grateful, these strategies can help you as much as they’ve helped me. No matter what your life circumstances are, and how far from ideal your current situation may be, there is still truly a lot to be grateful for in each day. Practice an attitude of gratitude, and you’ll be amazed how much more fulfilling your life is!
~ Kerry Petsinger can help you spend your time doing what you love. For your free “30 Powerful Questions to Find Your Passion” workbook, click here!