Let's face it: Even when things seem to be going right in our lives, it's still easy to be cranky. We find things to complain about on the daily, and then we wonder why we feel we face constant stress. It's no secret that people who are chronically grateful are simply happier, more fulfilled folks.
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who is known for his interfaith dialogue, gave a memorable TED talk in 2013 that urged everyone in the world to sow the seeds of gratitude in our daily lives. By "building stop signs," which help ground us in the present, we root ourselves in lightheartedness, rather than fear. Then, you can't help but feel more hopeful.
Being emotionally content has its physical benefits too. The HeartMath Institute conducted a study proving that an individual who cultivates positive thinking also changes the way their heart functions. The heart beat is smoother and more consistent, while, not surprisingly, stress causes it to be erratic. The Institute's Director of Research, Rollin McCraty, says the heart is a sensory organ and a processing center that can make independent functional decisions.
So we have to be aware of how our thought patterns affect us, as they directly correlate with the wellbeing of the most important organ — the one that drives our livelihood. But it's easier said than done, I know. How can you feel more grateful in your everyday life, practically speaking?
Add these 10 tips to your daily routine and revel in the thankfulness that follows.
1. Keep A Gratitude Journal
Keep a little notebook with you and set aside a time every day to write down the things that make you beam from ear to ear, whether it's a warm gesture from a friend or a job promotion. You don't have to write full journal entries; sometimes I simply jot things down that bring me joy. This informs your brain that there exists a lasting pattern — a life theme, even — of gratitude.
2. Say "Thank You" More Often
By verbally showing how thankful you are to the important people in your life, you bring more happiness into your own life. No matter who the individual is, they love to hear your appreciation, and you will see how good it feels to give it. Tell your dad, your best friend, and your barista that you are grateful for them, and watch what unfolds next. You could potentially make their day, while also reminding yourself that you are surrounded by people who are there to support you.
3. Bring Yourself Into The Present Moment
Being fully present is one of the hardest things to cultivate, especially with all the to-do lists dancing around in our overcrowded heads — but there's a great reward that comes along with it. Start by just noticing your surroundings; feel the chair you're sitting in, listen to each of your inhales and exhales. You will become more accessible and available to yourself, as well as the people around you. Steindl-Rast names the present moment as a gift, without which we have nothing. As cheesy as it sounds, give it a shot — and see how appreciative you become of the little things.
4. Commit To Using Positive Language
We don't even realize half the time when we're saying unpleasant things. I'm not only referring to gossiping and badmouthing others; complaining about the world and criticizing yourself count as well. All these words are just a waste of our time and energy, and they blind us from the incredible things that are happening right in front of our eyes. If we train our brains to focus on happiness, we'll see a carefree way of life blossom in front of our lives.
5. Spend More Time In Nature
The walk from your front door to the subway doesn't quite cut it. Commit to truly seeing the wonder that surrounds you, because it'll make you realize that there is magic all around. Being outside will also give your brain a well-deserved break. Mother Nature is just waiting to help you feel better, and she can even reduce symptoms of chronic ailments, such as diabetes or heart disease. When your body is functioning at its best, there's no doubt your mind will follow.
Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude researcher (yes, that's apparently a thing) at the University of California, Davis, told Huffington Post that helping others paves the way for us to foster our inner spirituality. For all you skeptics out there, science can back up this claim. BMC Public Health conducted research that showed that people who regularly volunteer are at lower risk for depression, and they're generally happier.
Love puppies and kittens? Go to a local shelter and cuddle a few who don't have homes. Like to do yoga? Offer your services to a non-profit that provides classes to incarcerated individuals and women who are recovering from trauma.
7. Reflect On Your Day At Night
When our lives are full, we tend to let things fly by without giving any real thought to how they affect us. It helps to pause and contemplate how your day has just unfolded; you'll likely run through all the cheerful occurrences, and before you know it, you're smiling at the sweet text message you got from your partner. And there it is — instant acknowledgment of the joy in your life.
Don't ignore the nasty stuff, either. Whether it's a fight you had with your mom or another article you read about civil war happening around the world, spending some time thinking about even these things will help you be more optimistic in the long run.
8. Try Not To Compare Yourself To Others
This one is especially difficult for me, what with the endless magazine covers of perfectly airbrushed women with white teeth and luscious hair. Dwelling on other people's beauty doesn't help anyone, though; you'll end up forgetting that you have so much to offer to the world. Harness your mental energy into focusing on how magnificent you are — which you are! Sure, other people have their blessings, from an envious career to good taste in furniture, but carve out time to address your own strengths.
9. Set Aside Some Alone Time
Go for a long hike or cook yourself a gourmet meal when nobody else is around. Maybe start meditating every day after work to clear your mind. These practices have lasting effects on your self-esteem, which, in turn, makes you feel more thankful. Don't get loneliness confused with solitude; when you intentionally spend time alone, you can recharge and pamper yourself. This helps you problem-solve later more efficiently. Sherrie Bourg Carter of Psychology Today says it can even improve the relationships in your life.
10. Be Humble
A psychologist from the University of Maine, Jordan LaBouff, told Time magazine that humility goes a long, long way in both our personal lives and our careers. LaBouff led a team of researchers that highlighted the connection between being humble and helping others, and he says that it's difficult to be compassionate if you're not modest. It wouldn't be too far off the mark to say that gratitude and humility go hand-in-hand. The more you refine your ability to stay unassuming, the easier it will be to count the blessings in your life.
Images: Bao Quan Nguyen/Unsplash; Giphy (10)