Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful day to really reflect on our blessings. To pause and really show gratitude to those around us and to God. But what if it wasn’t just a day, but an attitude? An outlook? A habit? What if you could make gratitude stick year-round? Do you think your life would be any different at Thanksgiving 2020 if you began a journey of proactive daily gratitude on Thanksgiving 2019?
This year, I’m suggesting that Thanksgiving is both a day set aside to be grateful, and a springboard of daily gratitudes for the 365 days that follow.
If you’d like to spring forward from Thanksgiving as well, here are 15 tips to make gratitude stick this year.
To cultivate an attitude of gratitude, focus on actions rather than feelings or emotions. It’s tough to really go for a week, think back, and decide if you were grateful or not. You won’t really get anywhere like that. Instead, write down your gratitudes. Or, even better, express them to another, such as a specific trait you’re grateful about in them, and write that down, too. If you’ve taken our gratitude challenge, you already have a great start!
Another aspect of writing down gratitudes rather than just reflecting on your attitude is that it’s measurable. If you write down the date, and your list, you can look back and see that you did it. You can make gratitude stick if your actions are measurable.
Just 3-5 gratitudes per day is enough to start. Don’t overcomplicate it. You need a pen, paper/notebook, and 3-5 specific things you are grateful for in that day. They can be extremely small things like the sunshine through a window, your favorite slippers, or hot coffee in the morning.
Sure, I suggested a year, but starting with a less daunting amount of time can help make gratitude stick. Begin with just 25-30 days. How about until Christmas to start. Then, decide to keep going.
Rather than trying for 5 days per week, or going in spurts and then stopping, do you best to make it a daily habit. Seven days per week, from now until Christmas and then beyond.
Many very well-intentioned new habits fail simply because we forget. We are all busy and have a lot to remember without adding more. And while modern life can make it challenging, it can also make it easier: use your phone, computer, or another device to set up both daily and weekly reminders.
It’s easier to make gratitude stick if you start by writing them down at the same time of day each day. And, while before bed is great (it may help you destress and get better sleep) (1), you may also get too busy by the end of the day and forget. Determine the best time of day for you. Then, you want to write throughout the day as well, those extras are icing on the gratitude cake!
Do you know anyone else who would love to do this as well? Enlist him or her and update each other daily or weekly with your progress. Not only does it make new habits more fun, but it can also really help you stick to them.
A positive trigger is simply a mental image or an action that reminds you to do something. It’s a ritual. For example, you can visualize your pillow as your gratitude journal. When you head to bed and see your pillow (your gratitude journal), you’ll remember to pick it up and write down gratitudes.
There’s no room for perfectionism here. If you miss a day, only write down 1, or lose your journal, give yourself as much grace as you’d give your best friend in the same situation. Don’t beat yourself up. And get right back to it to continue making gratitude stick.
With any new habit, it’s important to capture any negative thought or self-talk, and stop it in its tracks. You can do this by interrupting the statement with “but” as soon as it’s forming. For example, “Man, I’ve missed 3 days and I’m horrible at this (brain activated by negative self-talk), BUT it’s important to me and I’m going to start again.”
Can you think of any gratitude role models? Find articles, books, blog posts, sermons, or anything else that puts a gracious role model in the spotlight. A few that come to mind are Corrie Ten Boom, Mother Teresa, the Apostle Paul, Jesus (he broke bread and literally thanked God on the night of his betrayal and crucifixion).
It’s definitely easiest to live a life of gratitude when we are involved with helping others. If you have the time, consider volunteering or becoming involved in a ministry. Gratitude and service go hand in hand.
Sometimes it’s easier to make gratitude stick if you think of it as an experiment rather than an obligation. Think, “Let’s see how I feel about this by Christmas.” Then, you can decide to continue or stop.
Make it down on your calendar. Set a date that you will reflect on your journey, and even reward yourself for your efforts. It can be Christmas, New Year’s, or another time with less hustle-and-bustle. It’s good for your mental well-being along this journey. Research shows that those who engage in self-reflection reduce anxiety and improve well-being (2). Maybe reward yourself with a new journal?
Thanksgiving is a great time of reflection. But this year, what if it was also a springboard that formed our lookout moving forward through Christmas and into the New Year? What would change in your life if you practice gratitude as a habit? What would happen if you could make gratitude stick?