It’s no secret that gratitude is essential in making us feel happy and fulfilled. However, through routines and a cycle of increasing expectations, it becomes natural to start to take certain pleasures as given and to stop noticing what we already have. It’s really a natural reaction that when we are continuously granted the same good thing, we become habituated to it and are not as amazed by it. There is less of a surprise or a wow reaction because our expectations have evolved to anticipate it. We want new; we want exciting.
But, the more we can come to appreciate the gifts we are given and everything we already have, the easier it is to feel joy and to live better. And just like any other skill or ability, we can use discipline and intention to try to harness and improve our gratitude. As we practice the act of being grateful and incorporate it into our daily systems, we naturally get better at it and it becomes a part of who we are.
When we continuously activate these mental pathways that signal appreciation and optimism, our brain naturally rewires itself to strengthen these areas of our mind. Check out the following quick video on this concept:
Pairing this with the concepts I talked about in my article about applying systems to our daily lives, we can essentially program ourselves to be happy when we develop a habit and daily practice of gratitude. We just need discipline and daily consistency. Let me give you an example of how I design my day to account for this:
In my morning, I am always meditating and journaling to help take control of my mind and help me feel happier both in the short-term and long-term. In the first part of my daily journaling process, I am listing 3–6 things I am grateful for right now, trying to keep a balance in the types of things I am listing. For example, I don’t want to only write about things that happened to me yesterday because that can cause me to be too narrowly appreciative and dependent on spectacular things happening each day in order to feel grateful. Rather, I try to include some short-term things (ie: did great on my test, get to see my friend tomorrow, it’s a sunny day), some bigger and more essential things (ie: the health of my family, means to attend an awesome university, a place to live), and some simpler things (ie: the way my pen feels, my favorite shirt). This way, I can learn to be thankful in a more lasting sense.
What I’ve also started doing now is setting 3 sets of daily reminders on my phone for 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM, and 7:00 PM with the title “Little Thing.” Whenever this pops up during the day, I stop whatever I am doing and take 10 seconds to notice some small thing that I can appreciate at that moment in my day, wherever I am.
These two types of practices help me hone in on similar but slightly different aspects of gratitude. The first method of writing down differing types of things I’m grateful for each morning is great because it sets the tone for the day by allowing you to focus on things you already have and can feel good about as you approach whatever life throws at you. Moreover, by simply getting those repetitions, you are working to rewire your thought process to be more optimistic and to naturally develop a thought process that notices the positives in your life. You would be surprised at how much a positive perspective can change your experience of the things that happen to you, particularly those out of your control.
The second type of practice, the Little Thing reminders, helps in a different way by forcing you to take your morning practice with you throughout the day, into your daily life. By taking the time at random points in your day to stop and find small things to be grateful for, no matter what the situation, you are ensuring that you are not only generally appreciative for life from your morning practice but also able to find happiness in your day-to-day life. It helps us to resist our constant desire to always be thinking about the big picture and to find joy in where we are at on a micro level.
Call to Action:
- Get a journal, notepad, notebook and write down 3–6 differing things you are grateful for each morning
- Set 3 repeating daily reminders to appreciate little things
- Stay consistent
There’s a chance you are wondering about how ambition fits into all of this. If I become so grateful and amazed by what I already have, aren’t I going to lose my drive to achieve and attain more? Not if approached with the right mindset. As I discussed in another article about coming to understand and appreciate our processes, goals and ambition are not contradictory to our current satisfaction when we come to understand and value our personal grinds. We don’t want to get to a point where we are done achieving and growing. When we come to understand that, we can learn to stop viewing our goals as a means to “finish” our grind to feel happy. Rather, we can be happy right now and appreciate right now, knowing all the things we’ve already accomplished and being excited for all the things you will accomplish in the future. With this type of thinking, I find that no matter how grateful you are, you can still maintain an ambition to keep pushing for more.
- Here’s an awesome podcast by Case Kenny about Little Things.
- If you are looking to add a third dimension to your daily gratitude practice, you can try Tony Robbins’ Priming, which includes 3 minutes of visualizing and experiencing moments in your life that you can feel extremely grateful for. This can help you to dig deeper and to immerse yourself in a state of appreciation for a few minutes.
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