How a Daily Gratitude Practice Shifted my Mindset

by | Apr 17, 2016 | Mental Health

How a Daily Gratitude Practice Shifted my Mindset

by | Apr 17, 2016 | Mental Health

I used to read about people who practised gratitude and thought, ‘yeah that well-being stuff is cool, but not for me’. Even after I read the outcomes of study after study that consistently found large improvements in happiness and life satisfaction in people who had a daily gratitude practice, I still didn’t budge. That was until I found myself overwhelmed by stress – tired all the time, moody, and snappy. I decided to just give gratitude a try and see what happened.

The three steps I took in starting my gratitude experiment were:

  1. Coming up with a ‘trigger‘. I know that habits work best when there’s a trigger event that kicks off that automatic urge to do a habit, so I said to myself “I will practise gratitude after I finish reading my book every night and just before I want to go to sleep”.
  2. Saying three things I was grateful for in the past 24 hours. So I wouldn’t get stumped, I told myself I could make the things I was grateful for as easy as possible.
  3. Making a conscious effort to pay attention to positive events throughout the day.

After the first week, I realised that some days were easier than others to be grateful. On days where I worked 12 hours with no time to eat, exercise, or speak to other people it was very difficult to be grateful. Over time, even on busy days, I began to find that I was grateful for small things: the guy who said ‘good morning’ to me, the cool breeze on my face as I cycled to work, a catchy song on the radio. Fast-forward a few weeks and I could regularly find at least 5 things I was grateful for every day. It seemed as though my mindset was shifting from automatically focusing on negativity, which we humans are hard-wired to do, to being able to pay attention to the more positive aspects of life.

Having more grateful thoughts started to lead me to take more positive actions. For example, I dramatically reduced the amount I complained. Previously, if someone even so much as looked at me the wrong way I’d feel myself tense up and couldn’t wait to start complaining to the next person I saw. This behaviour began to really bother me. By practising gratitude, I believe that I’ve become more aware of what’s worth complaining about and what isn’t. Things I can’t control? Not worth complaining about. Things I could change? Worth complaining about in a constructive way.

I’ve now been practising saying three things out-loud just before bed that I’m grateful for about every night since the start of 2016.

Ultimately, I’ve come to realise that practising gratitude isn’t about avoiding emotions like sadness, guilt, or anger; it’s about levelling out our tendency to focus on negativity and replacing it with more attention to positivity.

As someone who once reported to a psychologist feeling anxious “every single second of the day”, this subtle shift in my mindset has been pretty awesome.

If you’re teetering on the edge of practising gratitude, I’d say: just give it a go. Start by saying three things you are grateful for everyday – you could even journal the things you are grateful for online. Have no expectations as to whether doing this will have a positive influence on you. Instead, get curious about how you feel and how you think when you’re grateful. If you find you like practising gratitude, then keep it up. According to the research, you’ve got nothing to lose, so why wait?