In my last post I focused on the benefits of gratitude: a more positive worldview and a happier life. In this post, I want to explain some ways to get these benefits.
Keep A Gratitude Journal/Record
Studies show that listing a few people and things you are grateful for each day improves mood. One way to do this is to keep some type of gratitude journal, although as you will see below, it doesn’t have to be that fancy.
You can make it fancy by going out and buying a journal (or making one), and writing down everything you are grateful for. However, it doesn’t have to be this involved. I created a Google Doc file that I update with five new things every day. It looks like this:
F – (I’ll explain this later)
See, it’s very simple. Because I want to update it whenever I want, and I have Google Docs on my phone and laptop. Even what I do may be too involved for some people. Your gratitude “journal” could simply be listing a few things you are grateful for to yourself on the way home from work, or when you get up in the morning.
List Your Gratitude for the Difficult Cases
It is easy to be grateful for people and things that make us immediately happy. However, if we really want to shift our perspective, we have to look at people and things we don’t like very much in a fresh way. One great way to do this is to list something you are thankful for about each and every difficult person, organization, or situation. As a teacher there is no better place to start than listing something you are thankful for about every student. It may be hard at first, but eventually you will find that the disruptive student becomes “energetic” or the non-participator becomes “reflective.” I was at an extra-school event recently, and a table of boys was driving me nuts. I shifted into gratitude mode, because I was getting frustrated. I was grateful that these students were extroverted and even funny, and they were interacting with the speaker in their own way. It definitely put the situation into perspective.
I tried this exercise with students, and they invariably mentioned certain teachers and administrators. Initially they used it as a bitch-fest about them. I reminded them they had to come up with something they were grateful for about these individuals, not just tell me why they were on their “don’t like” list! I saw a shift after a few minutes. Suddenly, the students saw the principal and teachers in a new light. “Umm, yeah they really do care about us” came out of one particularly rebellious, I mean, “independent-minded” student.
Say Your Gratitude When You Get Upset
When something happens that rattles you, one great tip is to say five things you are grateful for right away. Mouthy student? Denied a raise? Your kids driving you nuts? Immediately list five things you are grateful for. This is a great way to immediately change your perspective in a positive way and prevent a spiral into anger, sadness, or depression. If you need a little more positive “boost,” then name five more things.
List Your Future Gratitude
One of my favorite books is Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. While he gets into some speculative science that I am not really going to critique or defend here, I will say the book got me thinking about expressing my gratitude for events that haven’t happened yet (or may not happen).
One way to shift our perspective is to express our gratitude for events that haven’t happened yet. While Dispenza argues belief like this shifts realty at the quantum level, you don’t have to believe this to see its benefits. Being grateful for something that you want to happen is a great way to set your brain up to make it happen.
For example, on my Google document, I add an extra line with an “f” on it. You may have wondered why it was there earlier. This is where I list some type of future gratitude. For example, I may list “that the school day goes great” or “for getting a raise.” It is an interesting exercise and it has the effect of “priming” my brain to have a good day and make a little extra effort to get that raise.
Learn How to Express Your Gratitude
Feeling gratitude is the first step, and likely what makes you feel happier. However, expressing gratitude is important. Borrowing from non-violent communication principles, I suggest expressing your gratitude in the following manner. Express that you are grateful (you can use words like “appreciative,” “thankful,” etc) and be sure to add what the person did that you are thankful for. Even if you think the person “knows already,” express it anyway. For example, let’s say you are thanking a sub. Instead of saying “thanks for coming in for me” you could instead say “thanks for covering my class! You always do a great job explaining my lesson plans.” Most substitutes already feel like “less-than-teachers” and pointing out how great they are at teaching will make them feel great.
Gratitude is truly life-changing. Cultivating gratitude can change the way you view reality. Start today, and remember we are grateful that you are reading this article!