Gratitude is something I have, for many things, but not something I have always practiced, at least not in the sense of having a gratitude practice. I was raised to send thank you notes, in fact, I wasn't allowed to spend any money received until after I sent my thank you. And it couldn't just be a card that said, "thank you for the money," it had to be a proper letter, that included gratitude. Boy, did I not care for this practice when I was little. It's funny though, it was the rest of the letter I didn't like writing, not the giving thanks part.
Gratitude can be hard. By expressing gratitude, we are accepting something for which we are giving thanks, and accepting blessings can be challenging for many people. Sometimes, what we are accepting is physical: someone has given us a gift or money or some other actual thing.
If we had a need in our life, accepting the blessing might mean admitting that we needed help, which can be hard to do. We have been taught, by society, that needing help makes us weak and unworthy, and often times the exact opposite is true! When we need help, and we admit it, and we let someone else step in and give us the help we need, we are demonstrating a different kind of strength. We are creating the opportunity for someone else to aid us, which can often be a joy to them as well! And when we graciously accept that help, and offer heartfelt gratitude for what was given, we multiply the blessings!
But even if it was something like a birthday gift, it might not be something we actually wanted (I know many people get very strange gifts from both family and friends), but we still feel obligated to give thanks. It is easy to get caught up in some amount of resentment or to have hurt feelings. If they really KNEW us, they would have gotten us something we liked. Why did they have to give us something practical, why couldn't they have gotten us something fun? Where did they even find this thing they gave us???
To me, gift giving is a particularly tricky thing to navigate, because not only do we all have different wishes and desires, but we express ourselves in different ways. I love the idea of love languages because it makes SO much sense to me. Most of the people in my life speak very different love languages, and this was a lesson I learned really early (because my mom's love language is acts of service, so I grew up getting Christmas wish lists that didn't include actual gifts, but rather things like: a straight A report card or a clean house).
It can also sometimes be hard, especially for people who have known us a long time, to separate their memories of us from who we are today (doubly true for anyone who knew you as a child). They have this image of you, like a fly trapped in amber, and they may not update that image, and so they will gift you things that you may not be interested in anymore.
I used to really feel guilty about regifting or letting go of things that I had been gifted. It felt like I was being ungrateful. But I have started to realize that I can appreciate and honor the spirit of the gift...without holding onto the actual item at all. And sometimes, part of the joy for me is in finding a home for the gift with someone who will really love it!
People can also give us gifts of time or service. Just like physical gifts, this can be a hard thing for us to accept...and even harder for us to ask for! I am not very good at asking for help, especially when it's something that I can do myself (but perhaps someone else could do it better or easier). I am more likely to just push through, to do it myself, than to ask for help.
But sometimes, when we do things ourselves, we are again denying other people the opportunity to help us. A proper attitude of gratitude can go a long way in helping us to not only accept help, but to ask for it when needed. If we are truly in the spirit of gratitude, we look at tasks different ways. I learned to speak in gifts of service because of my mother, and I often do things for the people I care about, as a way of showing that I care. It is one way in which I show my gratitude for them being a part of my life, for the things they do for me, or give me, or just for being who they are! And when I let myself be grateful for the people in my life, I can then allow myself to show that gratitude by asking for help when I need it and accepting help that is offered.
I heard of gratitude practice many years ago, as it is often talked about in conjunction with journaling. Most gratitude practices suggest writing down five things you are grateful for every morning when you first wake or at night right before you go to bed. I tried this, and it so doesn't work for me...either morning or evening! I sort of gave up on gratitude practice for a long time.
About three years ago, I saw a challenge circulating about: it was a year of gratitude. There were 52 different prompts, one for each week, and the challenge was to list at least one thing, for each prompt, that you were grateful for. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and I wanted to share it. And this started my very first, year long project.
But, I didn't want to just write in my journal about it, I wanted to share it. So, I turned it into a community thing! My local group has a group on Facebook, and each week I would share the prompt and everyone could join in. It was a really cool year, not only did we all spend time each week focusing on what we were grateful for, but we got to see all the things everyone else loved as well! This project has evolved over the years, but I am still doing a weekly prompt for sharing with my local group, and it continues to be amazing.
On a personal level, I have finally figured out what works for me. Firstly, I don't think of my gratitude practice as JUST a gratitude practice. I added these sticky notes to the start of my journal, because they were ideas I had come across that really resonated with me. Not only ideas about what I could write in my gratitude journal, but also a shift in how I thought about it.
I do like noting what I am grateful for, but I don't want it to be just a list of things. I don't want to sit down every day and tick off the important things in my life...that just feels too much like a repetitive chore. In that first sticky (if you can read it!), it really expands on the concept of gratitude, and what I really like about it is that it includes things that you accomplished that day! I think it is easy to focus on external things that we are grateful for, and never reflect that back on ourselves and see what we love in ourselves. I also like that there is a 'room for improvement' prompt....instead of thinking about something that went poorly, we can turn that into thinking about how we would do it, if we could do it over! And that is a very powerful thought.
The journal I use for my gratitude is one I almost didn't buy. I love journals, and I have a stack of empty ones (and more stacks of partially filled ones). I like to dedicate journals to specific purposes, and keep different thoughts in each one. Typically speaking, overly flowery, yellow things aren't my style. But this journal was on clearance, for a price I couldn't pass up, and I figured I could always gift it to someone.
And then, when I decided to actually start trying to keep a gratitude journal, I thought I would use this one. I do love the silver, and the inside pages are lovely, with uplifting messages. It really is a lovely journal to look at!
There is something really special about having your gratitude journal be something that is physically pleasing to you. Every time I reach for this journal, before I even read or writing anything in it, I find myself wanting to smile. It just makes me happy. Which definitely puts me in the right mindset to write in it!
The biggest hurdle for me in actually using my gratitude journal is when to write in it. Morning doesn't work for me. I'm not a morning person. I plan in the morning, but I'm definitely not in a grateful place (not until the coffee kicks in!), so trying to use my journal in the morning wouldn't work. Plus, I'm often just not awake enough to think clearly about what I am grateful for (morning gratitude would probably look pretty repetitive for me).
Right before bed wouldn't work for me either. Though I am a night owl, I tend to stay up later than I should, and by the time I drag myself off to bed, I'm so tired I can't think straight! If I really want to remember to do something, I try to tie it to another thing I already do. In this case, we typically watch a show while we eat dinner, and I have found that what works for me is writing my gratitude after I am done eating. So, I keep my journal here, between our two big beanbag chairs (mine is the one on the left!) and there is a pen in the box on the table, so I have everything I need, and it is easy to remember to do. When I know we have other plans for dinner, I write in it after lunch...and when the day is really crazy, I just plop down when I have a moment and write then!
One big thing for me is to not be hard on myself if I do miss a day. I don't play catch-up or give myself grief, I just go back to it the next day. And if I find a pattern (like I did when I missed a couple of days because we ate out) I figure out what I can do that will help me stay on track (which is when I started writing at lunch if I knew we had dinner plans)!
I write about the wonderful things that happened in my day. This might be a package I got in the mail, a gift I received or something nice someone did for me. I write about things that are going really well in my life.
I write about food. This is kind of a family thing that I've inherited. My family loves food, and if you look at our family emails, we probably spend more time telling each other what we ate than what we did. I love food, and I have a complex relationship with it, but I find that by being grateful for the wonderful food I ate (or times where I was really good with my eating habits), that is starting to shift my perception of myself in regards to food.
I write about my cats...a lot. This is my go-to when my day is bad. I turn to my cats, and just spend time with them. And when I can't think of anything to write in my gratitude journal, I write about my cats.
I also read through my journal, when I'm having a rough time. Looking back at all the blessings in my life, makes me feel blessed. Reading about stuff I was excited about, makes me feel enthusiastic. Reading about my cats makes me feel happy! It's just good stuff.
I won't tell you to start a gratitude practice, but I will say that I enjoy mine. I will suggest that if you want to, that you play with it. Don't feel like you have to do it a certain way, and be assured that you can't do it wrong. Find things that make you happy, that make you feel blessed, and that let you really fill up with gratitude for all the amazing things in your life.