The secret to being grateful is no secret. You choose to be grateful. Then you do it again and again. If you forget, begin again.
I remember that rainy summer evening – shortly after Angel and I lost two loved ones to illness, lost our livelihood in a layoff, and ultimately lost sight of the goodness that remained in our lives – when I found myself lying down on a tile floor, alone in the dark, just thinking.
Angel and I rarely spoke openly about anything meaningful during that period of time, mostly because I was withdrawn. I felt helpless and essentially depressed about what had happened. I was lost in the darkness of my own negative thinking.
But something shifted inside me as I was lying on that tile floor.
As I looked up and out the open window next to me, the moon suddenly broke through the clouds and illuminated the dark room I was in. Then, within seconds, a light breeze started blowing the white window curtains inward and over me. As the curtains fluttered in the air four feet over my body, I smiled. It was a beautiful moment. And without thinking twice, I whispered out loud, “Life is still a miracle to be grateful for.”
Angel walked into the room at that exact moment and whispered, “I agree.”
She ducked under the curtains and snuggled into me on the floor. After a couple moments of shared silence, we decided to list some things off the top of our minds that we were grateful for, despite our struggles.
Our list of gratitude looked something like this:
- We had each other
- We had parents, extended family, and some friends who loved us
- We were reasonably healthy
- Most of our family members and friends were reasonably healthy
- We had some savings
- We had shelter, water and food
- We could experience and appreciate the beauty of the moonlight illuminating this dark room, and the breeze making the curtains dance
And the list went on, of course, but you get the gist. Even when everything seemed to be wrong, we had a lot going right – a lot to be grateful for.
That night I resolved to change my thinking and make gratitude a daily ritual in my life.
A Gratitude Ritual… A New Perspective
Nowadays, I spend 20 minutes every evening focusing my thoughts exclusively on what I am grateful for and why. I call it my gratitude meditation.
This may seem like a trivial, clichéd practice to some people, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not at all trivial, and as clichéd as it may seem at first, a ritual like this changes lives.
Here’s what has changed in my life, gradually, as I’ve practiced my ritual of gratitude:
- I appreciate Angel more, and tell her so, which has ultimately deepened our relationship by opening the gates to a more vulnerable and honest line of communication.
- I appreciate my extended family and close friends more because pay closer attention to their positive qualities.
- I have grown kinder to everyone around me, and kinder to myself too, because I have replaced many of my old, needless judgments with simple appreciation.
- Little frustrations bother me less, because I complain less.
- I need less to be happy, because I am being present and sincerely appreciating what I already have.
- I notice life’s simple pleasures and little moments more than I ever had before.
- Working through life’s inevitable adversities has grown easier, because instead of focusing on how painful everything is, I find gratitude and joy in the small steps of progress I make every day.
And this list goes on and on. But the important thing to realize is that all of these changes are incredibly positive and powerful. They aren’t trite, and they’re far from being a cliché.
My focus on gratitude has fundamentally changed the way I think and live, in the most incredible way imaginable.
So what’s the easiest way to create a daily ritual of gratitude in your life?
Here’s a super simple, five-minute, daily gratitude ritual that has worked wonders for hundreds of our course students over the past decade (and before I worked my way up to a 20-minute gratitude meditation, this is where I started too):
Every evening before you go to bed, write down three things that went well during the day and their causes. Simply provide a short, causal explanation for each good thing.
That’s it. We spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive electronics, big homes, fancy cars, and lavish vacations hoping for a boost of happiness and positivity. This is a simple, free alternative, and it works.
If you begin this ritual today, you just might be looking back on today many years from now, as the day when your whole life changed. (Note: Angel and I build little, life-changing rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
And if you need some extra inspiration, reflect on these…
Powerful Gratitude Mantras
Sometimes – on the hardest of days – I still have a tough time mustering up enough positive energy to focus on things to be grateful for. When this happens, I review my notes on gratitude – the perspectives and lessons I’ve learned over the years that I’ve documented in various archived blog posts (and now our book). I call these notes my gratitude mantras. And on those days when everything seems to be going wrong, I will read through them and reflect on them for as long as it takes for me to find a source of gratitude.
I pass these mantras on to you in hopes that you will find refuge in them as well. Repeat them to yourself, and reflect on them, in those dark moments when you’ve lost track of what you have to be grateful for…
- When life gives you every reason to be negative, think of one good reason to be positive. There’s always something to be grateful for.
- The greatest secret to happiness and peace is letting every life situation be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, and then making the very best of it. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Happiness” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Choose to smile today by taking life moment by moment, complaining very little, and being thankful for the little things that mean a lot.
- No, you won’t always get what you want. But remember this: There are lots of people who will never have what you have right now.
- Happiness comes a lot easier when you stop complaining about your problems and you start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have.
- Never let all the things you want make you forget about all the things you have. Today, focus on exactly what you have, not what you haven’t.
- Be grateful for your life. For your health, your family, your friends, and your home. Many people don’t have these things.
How has gratitude, or the lack thereof, affected your life and the lives of those you love? Do you have any thoughts or insights to share? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a reply below.
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Photo by: Luis Llerena