In Bréne Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes:
Without exception, every person I interviewed – [people] who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful – actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. And both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us.
She uses the word “practice” three times in a row, so we should sit up and pay attention. How do you practice gratitude, and what would that look like? After all, we in recovery know “grateful alcoholics and drug addicts never relapse.” We’ve heard it said over and over and over again (and if we are being honest, all of us would be really quite happy if we died without every hearing that tired cliche again). So what? Grateful drunks don’t get drunk. We get it.
Hold on a second. Before you write off gratitude as “that thing people with fancy cars and sexy girlfriends have,” let’s think about giving the practice of gratitude a fair trial.
I can guess what some of you are thinking: HOW are we supposed to do gratefully-stuff when things aren’t going great, when we’re convinced the other shoe is going to drop at any minute, when life just HURTS?
Here’s how, friends. We need to learn the practice of gratitude.
Remember when you were in Junior high school? You were lugging that trombone around, practicing scales, sounding like a dying hippo being raped by a garbage truck?
It didn’t sound pretty at first, right? But you kept practicing anyway.
That’s what we are going to do.
Nine Ways To Practice Gratitude (Even When Life’s Not Pretty)
1.Use Facebook for something other than sharing pictures of cats and crazy people.
Instead of making a traditional gratitude list — post at least ONE thing you are sincerely grateful for once or twice a week, tagging the people you are thanking so they will know you are thinking of them. As a small plus, Facebook will automatically give you the chance to repost those same public notes of gratitude on subsequent years. In time, your Facebook will read like a diary of gratitude stretching over a lifetime.
2. Mark Special Occasions
On your clean date, on the two month anniversary of your amazing new relationship, on your birthday or any other momentous occasion — start a new tradition: write a letter celebrating the highlights of your year and your predictions for the next year. Seal the letter and open it on the next milestone.
My husband and I are going to start doing this on our first anniversary this upcoming October; soon, we hope to have a stack of envelopes to reread each year.
3. Share Gratitude at the Dinner Table
Saying a prayer before stuffing your face is lovely, but how about telling the man or woman beside you that e you are grateful they’re present? How about this: share one “gratitude” from the day or week before taking your first bite. It’s a beautiful way to connect before you share that delicious meal.
4. Express your Thankfulness for the Hard Stuff
We all know life can be messy. Instead of regretting your mistakes or remaining caught up in the ways you were wronged, old resentments or fears, take a moment to think about what the challenge taught you. What can you be grateful for? What lessons did you learn? What did you uncover about yourself? Ask yourself this: how did the hardship serve you?
5. Thank the People behind the Service
Every day there are people in the background of our life — the Starbucks barista, the checkout lady at Publix, your friendly waiter at PF Changs. Take a minute to ask their name and then sincerely thank them for the ease they bring your life. Without them, would you be able to do what you do? Nope.
Show some gratitude for the human beings who make your life run smoothly.
6. Write a Letter of Gratitude
Have a teacher, a sponsor, a co-worker, an old friend or retired professor who made a difference in your life? When is the last time you told them? Have you EVER told them? Mail them a handwritten note of thanks for the difference they made in your life.
7. Start Friend Time with Celebration (NOT Whiny Bitching)
It’s such a nice feeling to trust your pals with your crazy boss stories or hideous date experiences… But before you dive into the complaints and snark and sarcastic whatever… make an effort to share the highlights of your week. It’s not bragging, it’s sharing the positive experiences that mattet to you so that you can celebrate together.
8. Say “Thank You” for the Mundane
Sometimes we get so used to our partner, our mom, our kids, (our sponsors) doing the things they’ve always done — making breakfast, taking the trash out, sending us surprise packages, listening to us complain about that same ol’ problem for the three hundredth time — we forget to appreciate these acts of compassion. Don’t take the moment for granted! Start with a small, specific, frequent, “Thank you.”
9. Appreciate a Power Greater than Yourself
Next time you’re outside, instead of checking your iPhone or rushing to get back to your real life — enjoy the moment. Raise your face to the sky and give thanks to the Universe that has created snowflakes, streaks of sunshine that make their way between skyscrapers, sunny beaches, forests full of pine trees, autumn leaves or gently rushing streams. The Unseen is an incredible presence we all too easily overlook.
Exercise your gratitude muscle by offering a quick prayer of thanks to something (or Someone) greater than yourself.