6 Steps to Cultivating Gratitude

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(Photo: iStock) 

Gratitude is not a feeling we have, but a muscle we must continuously nurture. The act of being thankful and appreciative opens the door to power, creativity and wisdom in the world and within ourselves.

Through practicing daily habits like noticing simple pleasures and counting our blessings, we embrace gratitude, living our lives as if everything was meant for a reason. As a miracle that banishes fear and brings abundance, a grateful perspective can help us cope with stress, increase our overall contentment and develop meaningful relationships.

Reflect on the Hard Stuff

From that failed job promotion to unrequited love, it's clear everything does not have a “happy ending.” But consider everything that didn’t work out in life a blessing in hindsight — even if you can’t see it until months or years later. Exploring “The George Bailey Effect” in his book, Gratitude Works: A 21-Day Program for Emotional Prosperity, author Dr. Robert Emmons says thinking about the absence of something positive can produce more gratitude and happiness than imagining its presence. It might seem like an uphill battle to express gratitude in our failings, but it’s a practice that also brings humility.

Express Yourself

All it takes is a cute notebook or a simple blog to get you started. Numerous studies on the science of gratitude have shown writing about what you’re grateful for can bump happiness levels up 25 percent. And when you’re happy, you're more likely to be productive and perform well. If you're keeping a journal, be specific in what you are thankful for and watch your thoughts develop over time — especially before heading to bed. It can start simply with notes, but once you start adding stories or even images through Instagram posts like #ThankfulThursday, a powerful change of mindset can begin.

Share Your Gratitude

Sharing what you’re thankful for shouldn’t be reserved for holidays. Sure, we all say thank you on a daily basis whether to our favorite barista or someone holding the door open, but we have become desensitized to the value “thank you” brings. When you express gratitude to a stranger or even loved ones, look them in the eye and thank them for what they brought into your day. As John F. Kennedy said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them."

Be Mindful

It’s okay to grumble or have an odd day here and there, but consider the moment. Look at what you have in your life — and start with little things like running water, electricity, or even Wi-Fi. What happens when those things disappear and reappear? How do you feel? It’s human nature to take everyday things for granted, yet without them, we wouldn’t be able to function. Make a mental note of everyday things that enrich your life. Practice mindfulness and meditate to stay in the moment, then focus your attention on the present and accept without judgment.

Retrain Your Brain

A study by The University of North Carolina suggests “loving kindness meditation,” also known as “metta meditation,” can change the neural pathways of our brain through practicing gratitude in challenging times. If we improve our health, focus on positive emotions and strengthen relationships, scientists believe we can rewire our brain by simply flexing our gratitude muscle during nerve-wracking experiences. This action not only intensifies the connection between our stress and gratitude neurons, but also wires them together. Eventually, when you're in a tough spot, your brain will savor the happiness in gratitude first.

Embrace Solitude

It’s been said the quieter you become, the more you hear. When we embrace solitude and develop appreciation beyond the engulfing tides of everyday noise and drama, we’re creating positive dialogue within ourselves. Through this dialogue, we’re connecting with our gratitude attitude in hopes to better train ourselves to find peace and serenity. Finding gratitude through stillness requires a specific amount of introspective alone time that creates self-awareness and appreciation.