Last week was Thanksgiving here in the United States, which is one of my favorite holidays—not just for the delicious food or the quality time spent with family and friends, but for the focus on gratitude.
Gratitude is huge, and it’s not just for the holiday season! It’s something that can be practiced on a daily basis, all year round. There are a number of proven benefits to practicing an “attitude of gratitude,” from improved physical and psychological health to better relationships, self-esteem, and even sleep. Yup, being grateful is just plain good for you—science said so!
There are lots of ways to incorporate a practice of gratitude into your daily life. For example, I like to practice gratitude via little check-ins with myself; I can do it anywhere and at anytime, and it helps keep me grounded and mindful so I don’t stray into unproductive and unhealthy thinking. (I’m super prone to negative and anxious thoughts, so this helps a lot.) Like, if I’m having a bad day and something not-so-great happens, I pause and ask myself: “What can I be grateful for in this? What is it that I can learn from this situation?”
Contrariwise, when I’m having a really great day (or even just a regular ol’ pretty good day), I like to acknowledge what I’m grateful for and why: “I’m grateful to spend time with my friends today, because I feel really happy when I’m with them” or “I’m grateful to live near a park, because it allows me to enjoy nature while living in the city.” This active engagement with my thoughts and feelings creates a certain presentness, which is extremely centering and keeps me focused on being in the “now.” This appreciation of both the big and the small—the positive and the negative—leaves me feeling generally more fulfilled and balanced than I do when I’m not actively practicing gratitude.
Obviously no one is perfect, and we’ve all got our bad days and our challenges. Being grateful doesn’t automatically make everything sunshine and rainbows. But, man!—it helps. It’s a great way to readjust your perspective when things are feeling a little overwhelming or hopeless. Positivity and intentional gratitude foster resilience, which is huge for those of us living with chronic medical conditions like lymphedema. I cannot tell you how many times my little “gratitude check-ins” brought me back into the moment when I’ve spiraled into negative thoughts, whether it be feeling self-conscious about my compression garments being visible (“I’m grateful that I have these stockings to help manage my swelling”) or frustration over having lymphedema (“I’m grateful for the deeper sense of empathy and patience living with a chronic medical condition has given me”). It may sound cheesy, but it’s a helpful tool to have in your toolbox, and I’m sharing this in the hopes that it could maybe help you, too.
So how can you incorporate gratitude into your daily life?
- Wake up every day and express to yourself what you are grateful for
- Tell whoever you are with at the end of the day the 3 things you are most grateful for
- Tell whoever you are with right now (significant other, friend, family member, etc.) the 3 things that you are most grateful for in this moment
- Start a gratitude journal – Express gratitude in this journal every night by noting the things that you are grateful for, proud of, and excited about
- Acknowledge yourself for what you have done and accomplished in the last day/week/month/year. Instead of comparing yourself to others, give yourself credit for the big and small things you have been doing!
- Acknowledge other people and thank them for inspiring/helping/supporting you – oftentimes people wait their whole lives to be acknowledged (and yet it happens far too infrequently)!
Start by practicing one or two of these a day and see how you feel—you might be surprised!