Updated: Dec 23, 2021
“Stillness…makes space for gratitude and wonder.” — Ryan Holiday, Stillness is the Key
Gratitude is good for you. By now I bet you’ve heard that at least 1,000 times. No doubt you’ve seen the volumes of research out there clearly demonstrating how practicing gratitude improves your mental health, strengthens your relationships, diminishes physical pain, and makes you generally healthier and more resilient. Honestly, it’s a bit like a magic bullet for improving your life.
And yet, why does it seem so hard to practice gratitude every day?
The way I see it, we all face two big hindrances when it comes to living a grateful life:
1. We don’t have time. Life is really busy. Most days, it seems impossible to slow down long enough to “be grateful” for anything.
2. We don’t know how. For most of us, gratefulness seems more like an emotional response than something you can manufacture. How do we make ourselves "feel grateful"?
Thankfully, these obstacles are not nearly as difficult to overcome as they may first appear.
In honor of the Thanksgiving season, I’d like to offer you three simple skills you can practice over the holidays to increase your experience of gratitude, and your overall enjoyment of the season:
1. The Skill of Noticing. The first essential requirement of gratitude is presence. You can’t be grateful for anything unless you’re willing to take a moment and really focus on it. I call this the Skill of Noticing. It’s simply the practice of paying attention to your life as it’s happening, and pausing to notice the things that are worthy of gratitude. You might think of it as a kind of daily treasure hunt. Practice going through your day looking for things that are worthy of gratitude, and when you see one, simply pause for a few seconds and notice it.
2. The Skill of Naming. Once you’ve noticed something worthy of gratitude, take the next step and name it. What is it, exactly, that you are noticing? Whatever it is, say it—out loud, even if it’s just a whisper to yourself. Here are a few examples: You see your wife setting the table and notice the graceful way she moves…”My wife is beautiful.” Or, you see the sunbeams bursting out from behind a cloud in the afternoon…“That is glorious.” Or, you feel the exhausted satisfaction of your body after a good workout…”I feel alive.” The simple act of naming things in this way brings them into sharper focus, and makes them real. They become touchstones in our day we can come back to anytime we need a little extra grace or comfort.
3. The Skill of Blessing. A blessing is simply a gift of grace wrapped in words. It needn’t be anything dramatic. To say to your wife, “I bless your beauty,” or to the sky, “I bless the glory of the clouds,” or to yourself, “I bless my body with strength and health”—all of these are expressions of gratitude that have the added benefit of turning up the volume on those things in your life. Once you begin consciously blessing the things you’re grateful for in your life, you’ll start paying more attention to them. You don’t have to “try” to do this; it will happen naturally.
There you have it. Three simple skills that anybody can do, anytime, even in the middle of a busy day. I hope they bless you, and help you experience greater joy over the holidays this year.