I think we could all learn to be a little more grateful, myself included. It’s so easy so to go through life focusing on the things we don’t have, whether that’s the impressive career, the smoking hot partner, a tight-knit family, or the shiny finances.
Shit, our psychology is practically geared to make us ungrateful. Here’s a lesson that always stuck with me from my AP Psychology class: studies show that people felt more distress from losing 20 bucks than they did happiness from gaining the same 20 bucks. Evolutionarily, it makes sense. Feeling our distress strongly (and acting on it) could get us out of danger. But in today’s age, it’s hard to justify our negativity in the same way. Feeling bad about the boy who didn’t text, the job you didn’t get, or the rude lady who cut you off in traffic really doesn’t do you much good. So, I threw together a list of ways we can fight our brains and bring gratitude to the foreground of our minds. Here we go:
1. Savor the gratitude you feel naturally
Ever notice it’s so much easier to cling to negativity than those really dope rushes of happiness? Here’s a challenge: next time you get that natural rush of gratitude, hold on to it. Really savor that moment and try to extend it for as long as possible. Let’s say you see a cute puppy on the street and you smile because it makes you think of your own dog waiting back home, embrace that thought and really think about everything you love about your pup. Or maybe, you get a text from your friend asking you how your day’s going. Pause for a second and think about how lucky you really are to have such a supportive network. It’s all about training our brains to assign importance to these types of thoughts.
2. Call home, whatever or whomever “home” is for you
Because they’re worth it. Nothing brings me more gratitude than knowing I have a family that loves me. Currently, I live on the opposite side of the country as them and that can be hard. It’s really easy for me to get caught up in my day-to-day obligations. I’m sure most people can relate. But guess what? “Being busy” or “life getting in the way” isn’t a valid excuse. Everybody’s busy – that’s really just a requirement of life. So next time you’re on the fence about picking up the phone, just do it. That latest episode of Netflix can wait, and so can that 8:00 PM email to your coworker.
3. Be a decent human being
One of the first steps to continued gratitude is believing the world is a kind place. And I think the best way to achieve that mindset is to be a kind person yourself. By being decent to others, you’ll bring out their decency. Plus, you’ll feel pretty good about yourself. That’s warm and fuzzy feelings all around! I’m not saying you have to donate half your savings to a cause you’ve never heard of. Hold open the door for a stranger, compliment your coworker, bring your friend over some chicken noodle soup when they’re hungover. It’s the little things.
Getting off social media is a probably advice you’ve seen in every self-help article you’ve ever read. (Probably because it’s some really good advice.) Scrolling through Facebook or double-tapping on Insta is bound to encourage comparison. Comparison often leads to envy, and envy in inevitably leads to a lack of gratitude. Plus, marketers have gotten really damn good at identifying what they think we need and shoving it down our throats in the form of pretty ads. That’s great for them, but not so great for us when we’re trying to appreciate what we already have. One of the best ways to feel more grateful is to shift your attention from all the things missing in your life to what’s already in front of you. Shocking concept, I know. You could start by turning off those tempting, little red notification badges.
5. Let those negative thoughts pass on through
It’s close to impossible to feel gratitude when you’re letting negative thoughts frantically cycle through your head. I know, because I’ve done this a lot. For years, I’d let my thoughts get the best of me, letting my brain play failures, anxieties, and awkward scenarios on repeat…I still do sometimes, but I’m getting better about it. It’s crazy how easy it is to selectively focus on the negatives in our lives. Next time you catch yourself doing this, try your best not to fight it (it definitely makes it worse). Let the thought pass on through, just like you would a breath of air. Remember, you get to choose what ends up sticking around in your mind.
6. Set time aside in your day to reflect
Gratitude, like everything else in life, takes work. It can be developed. How? By actually setting aside time in your schedule to practice it. Sometimes on my way to work, I like to put on a song that brings me to a happy place and reflect on everything good I’ve got going for me. Find something that works for you. Maybe that just means thinking of three things that made you happy that day right before bed. Maybe it means pushing yourself to send out that “thank you” text to an acquaintance, or greeting someone with a smile. Think of gratitude, and happiness in general, as a muscle. You’ve got to keep flexing to see so those results.
7. Put your life into perspective
Everyone has something to be grateful for, period. If you’re reading this, congrats, that means you have enough time on your hands for leisurely reading. Have a family that loves you? Good for you, not everyone can say that. Have full use of your body? Not everyone can say that either. Realizing how fortunate you are compared to others is the fastest shortcut to gratitude. Be grateful for the family and friends that always show up for you. Be grateful for the education that allows you to read these words. Be grateful for your body, and its endless mechanisms, that allow you to be a living, breathing human being.