As the U.S. prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, taking the day to stop and give thanks for the good things and people in their lives, we started thinking about how to be more thankful on a regular basis. All too often, gratitude falls by the wayside, as we inevitably focus more on the things we don’t yet have and the obstacles and challenges that inevitably come our way in life and work.
There is a lot to be said for making gratitude a regular part of our mental exercise. So much so, that the practice of writing a gratitude list or journal is becoming increasingly popular.
A gratitude list can be a very useful tool for professionals – it can help boost resilience in the face of adversity, reminding us that these things too shall pass and are part and parcel of the path to growth and happiness. It can also be a productive way of working out solutions to ongoing problems and dissatisfaction in our lives.
The most appealing thing about a gratitude list is that unlike some self-care trends, it focuses your attention outside of yourself. By thinking of the actions of others that you are grateful for, you become more aware of how your own actions can impact on others, and think about how to return the favour to those who have offered support, a kind word, a laugh or a happy distraction at stressful times.
Being able to feel and express gratitude are also good leadership skills. According to former lawyer and church pastor Carey Nieuhof, gratitude fuels a better attitude to work, making us want to maximise the opportunities we feel so fortunate to have been made available to us, instead of wasting time begrudging what we feel we are owed. Gratitude also makes us more naturally encouraging and attractive to be around, and helps us to see even more opportunities with an ‘abundance mentality’.
Where to Start
The first step to starting your gratitude list is let go of any guilt you might feel about not always acknowledging the good things in life the way you might have wanted. Everyday gratitude isn’t something that always comes naturally to many people, you are not unusual in this, and that is the reason why you are starting the list.
Next, buy a notepad, and choose it carefully – you want it to feel special and important. If you prefer digital alternatives, you can set up a personal Trello board, which enables you to make notes and add attachments to notes you have made that remind you to take action to thank a person or send a gift. Plus, if you use Trello for other projects it might be beneficial to have it in the same place to encourage you to update it.
Journey is another app useful for journaling and personal notes-to-self. With a focus on simplicity and seamlessness, it can be used across multiple devices so you can jot down your thoughts on whatever device is closest to hand and add relevant images, and automatically adds info on the weather and location at time of the input. You can also easily search back through posts using tags or calendar filters and share selected entries with other people, should you wish.
To embed the habit of noting the things you are grateful for, there are various suggestions on ways to encourage the behaviour. Some people create a ritual, setting aside a certain amount of time and always doing it in the same place and under the same conditions e.g. in bed with a warm drink. It’s not always practical in a busy working day to do this, and with little headspace it is often better to jot something down in an app immediately after it happened, giving you the opportunity to return to it later to add more details on reflection.
The SmartTribes Institute has a Gratitude Practice, which may be useful to help focus the mind:
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on one thing in your life you are grateful for at this moment
- Offer a silent thank you to that person/for that thing
- Relax into that feeling of gratitude
- Take a deep breath
- Go forward feeling more gratitude
What to Include in Your Gratitude List
If you are unsure how to structure your list, a quick Google will find plenty of templates available. Typically, entries are kept short with bullet points outlining what happened, who was involved and why you were thankful for it.
Another way to manage your list is to divide it into categories. You don’t have to fill in each category every time. Some example headings could include:
The Personal – Features and instances from your home and family life, social circle, and individual activities you are grateful you get to do.
The Professional – Everything and anything to do with work – opportunities, colleagues, work location, even the good office chair…
The Bigger Picture – things that don’t fall into a particular category or aren’t linked to a particular instance or event, but impact your life all the same e.g. being grateful for peace, for stable climate, for rights and freedoms.
Keep it Going
Try to make an entry every day – weekly at the minimum. The more regularly you do it the habit forming it will be. Though your gratitude list will be a mainly personal endeavour, it may be beneficial to share some details of what you are doing with others, as they will be interested to hear how it is working for you and offer their feedback, which will reinforce your commitment to the task.
With the Christmas holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to start jotting down the things you have been thankful for. We’d love to hear what would be on your gratitude list for 2018 – let us know @ObeliskSupport.