Unfortunately, negativity is just easier for most of us, thanks to a little theory called negativity bias, so practicing gratitude can be really difficult. In fact, psychologists believe the human brain is literally hardwired for negativity, because anticipating danger is kind of what’s kept our species from dying out over the years. Even though life is much easier now than it once was, (in most corners of the world, that is) practicing gratitude and positive thinking still isn’t natural for us. As Psychology Today put it, “unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worrying is the brain’s default position.”
So if negativity comes naturally to you, don’t beat yourself up too much over it, because you’re not the only person who needs help finding ways to live a more grateful life (plus, that would only be more negativity). Heck, my life is awesome and I still need help working gratitude into my life sometimes — because there will always be things to worry about, and evolution kind of screwed us on the whole staying positive thing.
That said, evolutionary instincts are no excuse to be miserable, so here are 10 little ways to work more gratitude into your life.
1. Keep A Gratitude Journal
I know from personal experience that adding tasks to your already busy schedule can seem impossible (and perhaps even counterintuitive) at times. Heck, I’m a writer — and I only just started keeping a gratitude journal today, because watching Netflix before bed is easier. If you want to find small ways to live a more grateful life, though, then you should start keeping a gratitude journal STAT.
As The Huffington Post put it back in 2013, “Keeping a gratitude journal can reinforce positive thoughts — something particularly helpful as the brain tends to naturally focus on what goes wrong. Putting pen to paper can also help you make more progress as you work toward personal goals.” Setting aside a measly five to ten minutes before bed to write down what you’re thankful for is one of the easiest, most therapeutic ways to cultivate more gratitude in your daily life. If daily journaling seems unrealistic for your lifestyle, though, just shoot for every other day instead.
2. Live In The Moment
Mindfulness is hard sometimes. In fact, it’s really hard, and I have no problem admitting that I’m bad at it. Not making an effort to live in the present, however, can cause us to take things, people, and experiences for granted. In a piece for Greater Good, Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude researcher and psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, wrote about how engaging our senses can help bring us back to the present and boost our gratitude levels. Emmons wrote, “Through our senses — the ability to touch, see, smell, taste, and hear — we gain an appreciation of what it means to be human and of what an incredible miracle it is to be alive.”
So instead of mentally checking out the next time you find yourself desperate to be anywhere but where you actually are, engage your senses and make an effort to find something about your present situation to be grateful for. You weren’t born to live your life on autopilot, and that old adage about smelling the roses exists for a reason.
3. Remember The Bad Times
Thinking about a time in your life that really sucked may not seem like the best way to cultivate gratitude in your daily life, but evidently, it’s kind of a crucial part of becoming a more grateful person. According to The Huffington Post, “the key to leading a thankful life is embracing setbacks as part of your overall journey.”
So basically, remembering the difficult times that you’ve already overcome, (like financial hardships, personal losses, and general f*ck ups) can help you gain some much needed perspective when it feels like you have nothing to be grateful for.
4. Make Time For Your Favorite People
Dr. Robert Emmons told The Huffington Post that gratitude, “actually strengthens relationships and relationships are the strongest predictors of happiness and coping with stress.” Additionally, Dr. Michael E. McCullough, a University of Miami researcher, told TheNew York Times that, “More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship.” So if you want to live a more grateful life, make sure you’re spending quality time with the people you love.
5. Treat Social Media Like Your Personal Gratitude Archive
It’s a well-documented fact that social media can really mess with our happiness if we let it. Fortunately, though, social media can also be a vehicle for gratitude when used mindfully. The Huffington Post suggests treating your social media accounts like your own personal gratitude catalogs, and it’s a suggestion that makes a lot of sense. Not only will posting positive status updates create a safe Internet space for you to turn to when you’re having a hard time feeling grateful about anything, but you might even help your followers feel better about their lives, too — because research has shown that positive posts actually spread faster than negative ones.
So whether it’s cute cat videos, artsy pictures of delicious coffee, tasteful nudes, or inspirational quotes from badass women, try treating your social media accounts like your very own gratitude project and then see what happens. Chances are, you’ll be living a more grateful life in no time.
6. Make Exercise A Habit
Did you know that physical fitness and gratitude are linked? According to a 2003 study conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons, people who practice gratitude work out more often than those who don’t, and they’re less likely to suffer from dietary restrictions and substance abuse issues, too. So if you haven’t already found an exercise regimen that works for you, now might be the time to change that. Oh, and take your work out outdoors if you can, because the health benefits of exercising in nature are abundant.
7. Make Time To Help Others
Not only does research suggest that volunteering can improve feelings of depression, but people who make time to help others usually feel grateful for the experience, because it allows them to use their talents in new, meaningful ways.
As The Huffington Post explains, “people become more grateful as givers rather than receivers.” So whether you choose to volunteer at your local animal shelter on a regular basis, or you commit to babysitting your nieces one night a week so your sister can remember what it’s like to sport clean clothes and eat grownup food, you might want to consider volunteering your services once in awhile.
8. Think About What You Have Instead Of What You Want
In our increasingly materialistic society, this one can be tough to pull off, and I get that. There’s so much pressure to have more and be more these days, and for whatever reason, people tend to confuse contentment with complacency. Here’s the thing, though: there’s nothing wrong with being content with what you have while you work toward what you want. As Lifehack put it, “The happiest people are those who are contented with what they currently have, not with what they lack.”
If you’re healthy, your bills are paid, and you have a few genuine friends, then you’re doing really well. Focus on all the good stuff in your life instead of berating yourself for not being where you think you should be professionally, financially, and/or personally.
9. Savor The Small Stuff
OK, so maybe you’re not where you want to be financially, and that means you can’t afford to do the things you really want to do. Maybe you’re going through a really difficult breakup and everything seems horrible. Or, maybe everything is fine, but you’re in a weird funk right now anyway. Whatever’s going on in your life, though, remember that there will always be good things to enjoy — like pizza, your favorite TV series, soft clothing, and clean sheets. Make an effort to savor the small things in life, then no matter what’s happening in your universe, practicing gratitude should become less challenging.
10. Say Thank You A Lot
When your partner does something sweet, leave little “thank you” notes where you know they’ll find them. Thank your barista for making your coffee, even if it takes them a while. When your mom texts to check on you, maybe thank her for thinking about you. Thank everyone you come in contact with for every nice thing they do for you, no matter how small — because when it comes to gratitude, you really can’t overdo it.
Ready to make a difference? Registration for Good Deeds Day is now open! Let us know what you’ll be doing to make the world a better place on April 3, 2022.