Ok, so you know why gratitude is important, but the question remains: HOW do we integrate it into our lives so that it is a practice, and not something we berate ourselves for not doing?
1. Get real with yourself about how it FEELS when you acknowledge your gratitude.
For me, it feels like for a moment, everything in the world is ok and right. There is a warmth that washes over me with a feeling of contentment. What does if FEEL like in your body when you are content in the moment? Do your shoulders relax? Does your stomach stop doing backflips? Identify the feeling in your body and then:
2. Notice when you FEEL that during your day or your week.
For me, these are fleeting but amazing moments that I string together to build my gratitude practice, like Holiday lights on a wire- they are strung together to make something beautiful.
For me, the moments that stand out and produce the aforementioned feelings are:
a. When I see something stunning in nature like a sunset, a beautiful array of clouds, when snow has fallen and everything is quiet, the way the sun makes the ocean water sparkle, etc. I know I FEEL grateful because I want to store that image in my mental photo album.
b. Parenting joy: when I see my son asleep in his bed looking totally at peace. Or when I see him improve or master a task he's be working on. There is nothing like that feeling for me.
c. Professional successes: minutes or hours when things are clicking and progress is being made. I feel truly alive, effective, and honored to help others make strides to improve their lives.
d. Personal triumphs: the feeling when I finish a hard workout is high on my list right now. The feeling after finishing a difficult assignment in graduate school.
These are a few of the categories that stand out strongly for me where I really FEEL those physical components of gratitude, where I want to relive the experience.
3. Track these moments.
With our phones being so handy, you can even make a GRATITUDE photo album on your phone to remind you of these moments in which you have gratitude. Some people have a gratitude journal, but that may feel forced or corny. Do it if you want, but if it doesn't feel good for you, don't. It's a trial and error thing, and that is fine! Something that worked in the past may not work now, or vice versa.
How else could you track the moments you want to relive? The moments you try to repeat or re-experience? For me, that's when I most notice and enjoy my gratitude.
Here are some other ways to track:
* A gratitude jar (put slips of paper in and watch the stack grow)
* Voice record your moments on your phone
* A photo journal as stated above
* Self-reflection time during your day
* A pinterest board
* A scrapbook
* A regular conversation with a loved one or friend
* A thank you note to someone
4. Give yourself permission to figure it out.
There is no right or wrong way to "do" gratitude. Find what feels right for you. It doesn't have to be like everyone else. It needs to fit you and work for you so that you can reap the benefits of your own practice. Give yourself time to connect with your body in those joyful moments to record what you feel in your body when your mind is happy or content.
Plus, as I've said before, what you focus on expands. When you integrate this practice, you start looking for these moments. Then you start feeling them more, and so on. It's a self-fulfilling positive feedback loop.
You just have to start. It doesn't have to be perfect.
5. Understand that you won't feel this way all the time. Relinquish the expectation so you can let go of your resentment.
Being "happy" is a condition that we think we need to chase to feel like we are living our lives right, and once we arrive, everything in our lives will be good.
We won't have to worry, suffer, try so hard, fill in the blank. But that's not how life is nor is is realistic. Life is full of ups and downs.
We want to really focus in on the ups, and put an individual twinkle light on each up. Look for the ups, look for those moments. No one else may notice them but you. That is fine. The more lights you string together, the brighter your gratitude practice is. It builds on itself.
When you don't expect your life to be shining like the sun 24/7, you will appreciate the moments that it is. There is your gratitude.