Creating a Practice of Gratitude

rhn-thankyouThis blog post was written by Recovery Help Now’s, Leslie Kolb, MSW, ASW.

Have you ever gone through something difficult in your life when you wondered why life was so unfair? Why you had to deal with the problem in front of you but others did not? For example, if you are in recovery from alcohol addiction, you might feel that it is unfair that some of your friends can drink socially in moderation or that they don’t experience a desire to push their alcohol consumption to the limit. Or if you experience social anxiety and find it difficult to be social at all, you might feel it is unfair that you have to struggle with that while others socialize freely and often. During these times when we feel we have it worse than others, it can be very helpful to develop a regular practice of gratitude.

Last week, we discussed taking time out each day to be mindful and pay attention to the gratitude you felt that day. During difficult periods in our lives, however, it can be a challenge to simply remember to be mindful, especially when we are feeling angry, sad, victimized, or resentful. Instead of relying on your memory and your resolve to be mindful each day, try a more concrete solution: find a notebook, blank book, or even a day planner, and create a gratitude journal. If you already have a journal, create a section for each day to write down what you’re grateful for.

Just because you have the journal in your possession, however, does not mean that you will automatically write in it every day. It takes repetition to create a habit. The easiest way to do this would be to choose a time of day that works best for you and set an alarm on your phone, watch, or clock to remind yourself to take time out to reflect and record your gratitude in your journal. The time you take can be brief—5 minutes even. The important part is that you focus on gratitude during that time, even if you are having a tough day.

So what do you write in your journal? That’s up to you. Ask yourself what you are thankful for. Did you forget to feed the meter but get away without a ticket? Did you receive a phone call from a friend who you were missing? Did you laugh until tears came to your eyes? It doesn’t matter what it is—it’s the fact that you felt grateful, thankful, or maybe even happy about it that’s important.

As you write, try not to include things you believe you should feel grateful for but things you truly are grateful for. Sometimes our feelings of “should” get in the way of the way we truly feel, and when focusing on gratitude, the feelings of “should” might limit the feeling of joy you can experience when truly grateful. With daily practice, you will begin to be able to see the difference between the two and begin feeling the joy of gratitude more deeply.

If you find that you are having trouble maintaining the routine, experiment with different times of day. You might find that writing in your journal right before you fall asleep helps you relax and feel joyful about the events of the day. Or you might find that writing in your journal right when you wake up creates a positive outlook for the rest of the day and makes the tough moments seem easier. There is no right or wrong way to do this—only what works best for you.

As you navigate your busy week, try taking time out for gratitude. If you find you can’t easily prioritize a few minutes a day for it, try creating a gratitude practice for yourself by writing in a journal at a dedicated time of day. We can all use a little more joy in our lives, and this might just be the way to find it.

Elana Clark-Faler
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