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Changing Your Life by Practicing Thankfulness and Gratitude

Sometimes we get stuck in life and it feels like there is just no way out of the rut we find ourselves in.

The interesting thing about that statement is that the rut we’re in is often [not always!] the result of decisions that we’ve made. To make better decisions we have to have a better perspective. To have a better perspective we have to get out of the rut!

Unfortunately, getting around, over or through our challenges isn’t as simple as making a couple of statements and changing our circumstances.

BUT, what it is easy – if you choose to see it that way – is to change what you say to yourself and others, change your attitude about your circumstances and then your circumstances change.

My middle son is a sweet, sweet child who has a temper the likes of which rivals mine when I was his age. Although I’ve since learned how to control my anger – MOST of the time! – he is just 18 years old and nowhere near ready to admit that his mother may actually know something that he doesn’t.

He seems to be traveling the path that psychologists laughingly refer to when they discuss a child’s perspective about their parents. In the early years mom and dad know everything – and I mean everything. As the child grows up they start to distance themselves from their parents and the beliefs that were drummed into their little heads. They start to develop their own boundaries and belief systems.

And then adolescence begins. Suddenly their parents are the dumbest rocks in the rock pile. Of course their parents couldn’t know anything because they are ANCIENT. When their parents were growing up there weren’t smartphones and high speed Internet. Of course they weren’t around when the kids were little either, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Etiquette, manners, job interviews, dress codes, dating and thank you notes are just not done the way that parents think they are. Things are DIFFERENT now and parents are just not with the program.

Interestingly, as the adolescent brain matures and develops the parents suddenly know more than they remember or could have imagined. And, before you know it, the children are calling the parents for advice again.

But, my youngest son hasn’t achieved that particular milestone . . . yet!

One of the ways that parents can get through those angst ridden adolescent years, the bad days at work, the lonely nights or the overwhelming weight-of-the-world-on-your-shoulders burden is to consciously choose WHAT you think.

Research backs the theory that what you think and tell yourself has specific mental and physical health benefits.

Specifically, practicing gratitude.

1. Being grateful opens the door to new relationships in your life. Showing thankfulness to your friends increases the likelihood that they will continue to seek you out as a friend.

2. According to a study published in 2012, people who practice gratefulness will experience better health and fewer aches and pains throughout the day. Interestingly, people who practice gratefulness also take more care with their health, nutrition and fitness.

3. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research scientists found that practicing gratitude also improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality reduces the potential for suffering from cardiovascular disease, dementia, high blood pressure and diabetes.

4. According to a study published in the journal of Psychiatry, practicing gratitude will also increase your overall feelings of well-being.

5. Research also supports gratitude reducing stress, rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and improving mental resiliency. Even during the worst times in life, when you can find something to be grateful for, you improve your mental toughness and ability to withstand challenges.

So if gratitude is so great, how do you incorporate it into your day and your life WITHOUT picking up a journal and writing every day?

Let’s face it. Not everyone enjoys journaling. In fact, as much content as I write on a daily basis, the thought of keeping a journal feels like one more thing on my plate – and the plate is full enough, thank you very much!

Most of my friends have very full plates also. And, I’m guessing, so do you. So what are some more creative ways of practicing gratefulness and thankfulness every day so we can enjoy the benefits without feeling like it’s another task that must be finished each day before finally resting at night?

After all, I’d appreciate better sleep, better health, more friends and less stress.

Here are some of the ways that I practice gratefulness and thankfulness and other creative ways I discovered from friends and research. Pick and choose the ones that you like, you can comfortably incorporate in your day and watch the changes start to happen in your life.

1. Say “Thank You” at least four times a day. Whether you talk to a store clerk, a friend, your family or have to pick up the phone to call someone – say thank you four times every day.

2. At the end of every day tell yourself, out loud, at least one thing you are grateful to yourself for. It may sound a bit weird, but it helps to ‘hear’ what you’ve done right that day in your own eyes. We spend too much time berating ourselves for the things we think we’ve done wrong. Start with one thing each evening and work it up to four things as you get better at remembering the things you do right every day.

3. Before your feet hit the floor in the morning and you’re racing off to accomplish an ever-growing list of “things-to-do,” tell God three things you are grateful for. It can be as simple as being grateful for waking up that morning, the roof over your head, hot running water in the bathroom or indoor plumbing. Sometimes we forget the small things in life that make every day easier.

4. Write a thank you note to someone that you’ve never really properly thanked for something they did for you. Not a physical gift, but a recognition of an act of kindness they did. It could be someone from your childhood, or someone you met just last week.

5. Acknowledge your friends who have been with you through thick and thin and tell them you are grateful for them. You feel good and it gives them a gift as well.

6. Donate time to charity that you believe in. You might not have a great deal of time, but maybe you can spare an hour or two once a month. If you can’t find a charity, call the local nursing home and see if you can play cards with their residents once a month.

7. Remember the hardships in your life. Think about what they’ve taught you and what you’ve learned going through them. Be grateful for the lessons that have made you stronger and better able to tackle the challenges today.

8. Are you more digitally oriented? Try Happify where you’ll find loads of ideas to improve your happiness quotient, even in the face of adversity.

9. Want to do something with your children? Try a gratitude jar! Let the children decorate a large jar. When you or the children experience something during the day that are grateful for, write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. You’ll all find yourself looking for things that you can write and put in the gratitude jar. This also works well if you just want to practice it yourself. At the end of each month, pull out the slips of paper and read about all the good things that happened and you likely already forgot!

It’s important not to take gratitude for granted.

It is easy to overlook the small and large things in life that are really great when there are challenges that seem overwhelming.

Lee is a friend of mine whose life has seemingly taken a wrong turn. She confessed that in earlier years she had been angry, irritable and consistently frustrated with her life. But today she has an open, happy personality and a ready smile for all who meet her. In fact, she recently got a job just because her new boss loved her smile and the way she treated others.

What was it that changed in her life?

She told me that she watched the movie “The Secret” and from that movie she learned that she could change her life by how she reacted to her circumstances. She recognized that her circumstances didn’t immediately change, but her perception of her life DID change and over the months that followed so did the opportunities and options that opened up in her life.

Lee didn’t change overnight, but today she smiles when she says that the day she learned to smile and be grateful for what she had, was the day that her whole life changed. On the outside her life appeared the same, but Lee was different and over time her life is also becoming different.

We all have choices in life to make each day. A wise man once told me that every choice we make, no matter how small, has consequences. When we decide to thank the barista, the clerk at the department store or the postman for delivering the mail, we are making small decisions that have consequences over time.

Today is the day that YOU decide to use two or three ways to practice gratefulness and watch the changes that happen in your life from day to day.