The Two Most Important Words You Can Say
Easy Gratitude Practices That Will Change Your Life
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
"I have to be honest: I've been scared to write this article. Not because writing about gratitude is scary (it’s not) but because for me to do the lesson justice, I needed to share about the experience that made this lesson so powerful for me.
First, an admission: I’ve always thought of myself as a grateful person. I say thank you easily and often. I’m super appreciative when people do things for me or give me things.
I’ve even occasionally implemented an intentional gratitude practice, so whenever people would talk about the importance of gratitude, I’d smile knowingly (and probably smugly) and give myself a little mental high five for being ahead of the game.
But, as I learned this summer, I’ve been phoning it in when it came to gratitude - and the changes I made have made so much difference in how I feel.
I've written previously that this summer was incredibly hard for me.
To say that my sense of security was rocked is an understatement.
I felt like not only did the rug get pulled out from under me, but the roof flew off and the doors blew off their hinges too.
I went through an unexpected health issue that left me reeling from both the physical and emotional toll it took.
At the exact moment I was dealing with that, I went through a breakup that broke my heart.
All that piled on top of some very intense feelings of overwhelm and financial and personal insecurity that comes along with a complete career pivot - especially daunting with two young kids and no other financial support.
Everything came to a head in the middle of August and I was having a really hard time getting out of my funk, which, being a natural optimist, felt super uncomfortable and foreign to me.
One day, as I was flipping through social media, I came across a post that reminded me about the simple practice of gratitude. A practice that I had implemented during other hard times in my life and felt the benefits from, but had for some reason stopped doing regularly and let it slip from my mind completely.
At that time, it didn’t really feel like there was much to be thankful for, but I was desperate to feel better. I immediately ordered a few books on gratitude and started reading everything I could on the topic.
What I learned from my reading, and was able to apply to a new and updated gratitude practice, made it so much richer than any gratitude work I’d done in the past.
I can tell you that - without a doubt - practicing gratitude daily was the single most powerful thing that helped me recover through a very dark time.
Thankfully, my health has returned to normal, and while I still have plenty of issues I’m dealing with (because life...), they feel so much more manageable. Practicing gratitude completely shifted my perspective and brought me back to a place of feeling empowered, blessed, and good.
And, I’m not the only one.
There’s lots of science to support the positive effects we experience when we practice gratitude. Here are some of the highlights:
We feel more optimistic - both immediately and longer term: "Something as simple as writing down three things you're grateful for every day for 21 days in a row significantly increases your level of optimism, and it holds for the next six months. The research is amazing," said Harvard researcher and author Shawn Anchor.
We sleep better: A number of studies and research have shown that gratitude improves the quality of our sleep, helps us fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer - especially when you think about things you’re grateful for right before bed.
We feel less stressed: Practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease cortisol (the main stress hormone) and lessen variable heart rate (a direct result of lower stress levels).
We feel less anxious and depressed: A 2005 study found a 30% reduction in depression just by keeping a gratitude journal and another which found that all anxious and depressed participants who wrote gratitude letters, showed significant positive behavioral changes.
Oh - people who start a gratitude practice end up working out more, too, which likely means we feel even better and maybe even tone up our bodies!
I think most of us generally believe it’s a good idea to be thankful and can easily accept the mountain of research advocating for it, but when it actually comes to implementing a practice, things get a little dicier. We may start out strong, but then within a few days or weeks, we’ve already let it slip.
Here are my favorite 2 ways to practice gratitude, which, because of the specifics of them and how good I feel doing it, have been really easy for me to maintain. Below the methods, I’ve also included categories of things to be thankful for, if you’re having trouble getting started.
I hope you will give them a try!
MY FAVORITE GRATITUDE PRACTICES
What's The Why?
Gratitude isn’t just about the words, it’s about the feeling. I mean, how many times do you say thanks in a day and have absolutely no emotional attachment to the words?
In my previous gratitude practices, I’d follow the suggestions of so many articles and just think of a few things I was grateful for each day. Don’t get me wrong - that helped - but it seemed more like I was going through the motions, rather than feeling the emotions of gratitude.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are much more motivated by emotions than mere thought alone, so amping up the feeling of gratitude not only helps us feel even better, but that amplified good feeling motivates us to keep the practice up.
The way to attach more feeling to the words is think of why you are grateful - not just that you are grateful.
Each day, write 5 things you’re grateful for and why:
I’m grateful for ____ because _____
I’ve included categories and thought starters if you need some help getting off the ground, but my favorite method is to first clear my head, ask myself what I’m grateful for and then see what comes up. Sometimes I’m surprised by what springs to mind - from specific people in my life to the air I’m breathing.
If you can’t actually write it down, you don’t need to skip - just say each one out loud to yourself in the shower, in the car, while you’re walking (pro-tip: put your earbuds in and no one will know you’re talking to yourself).
It only takes a few minutes, but there are days when I literally feel a buzz all day just from connecting to all the things I have to be truly grateful for in my life.
The Best Thing That Happened:
And my absolute favorite way to practice gratitude and close out the day is with this “best thing” gratitude practice. Here’s how to do it:
Each night before bed, reflect back on your day looking for the best thing that happened to you that day - it could be a particularly good moment, a kind compliment someone gave you, something you did, a decision you made. And then, say thank you for it!
I love this practice because, in the reflection of my day looking for the best thing that happened, I am able to see just how many wonderful little moments I really did have during the day - even if I didn’t necessarily realize how good they were good at the time.
It has also helped me be more mindful during the day because I’ll catch myself in a moment thinking about how wonderful it is and fully appreciating it then and there, so I don’t even have to wait for my evening practice.
It’s best to do this last thing before you go to bed so you go to sleep filled with all the positive thoughts you generated in your reflection. To help you remember and stick to the practice, I suggest placing a small rock by your bed that you can hold while you do this mental reflection. Each night, as you see it sitting on your bedside, It’ll serve as a great reminder to close out the day finding the best thing that happened that day.
Even in the midst of some of the hardest things in your life, there are things to be grateful for.
If you’re stuck trying to find things to say thanks for, here are some categories and thought starters:
GRATITUDE THOUGHT STARTERS:
- Health - (that you have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch and hold things, feet and legs to carry you through the day, a fully functioning body that carries you around)
- Relationships - (that your loved ones are alive, that they bring you joy/love/laughter)
- Money - (that it pays for you to drive a car, keep a roof over your head, purchase food, pay for the things you need and want)
- Job - (that it provides you financial security, health insurance, friendships, meaning)
- Material things that provide comfort, convenience and safety - (Your home, car, bed, cell phone, TV, computer)
- Simple pleasures - (your favorite drink/food, your cozy pillows/sheets/towels, reading a good book or watching a good show, sitting by the fire, laying under the stars)
- Environment - (Nature, air, water, Earth, the sun, seasons)
Now it’s your turn! Share in the comments what stood out in this article, what you’re going to put into place (we tend to stick to things when we write down - yay accountability!), and what your favorite gratitude practices are - you never know when your practice might just help someone else!