How can we go past the simple “thank you” when we think about ways in which we are thankful?
Of course, we can be thankful for very simple, basic items, like food or shelter. Though these simple things we often completely forget as well!
I am keeping a daily gratitude journal since over a year now, and it has helped me tremendously in realizing what is important to me. lately I have thought about methods to make this daily practise even more impactful.
Here, I have listed 15 items. By the way…
GRATEFUL DEAD: The motif of a cycle of folk tales which begin with the hero coming upon a group of people ill-treating or refusing to bury the corpse of a man who had died without paying his debts. He gives his last penny, either to pay the man’s debts or to give him a decent burial. Within a few hours he meets with a travelling companion who aids him in some impossible task, gets him a fortune or saves his life. The story ends with the companion disclosing himself as the man whose corpse the hero had befriended.
And so, in this spirit…
#1 – Think about someone who has done something nice for you in the past year.
Maybe someone picked up a book for you, or let you pass in line at the grocery store when you were very busy. You can be thankful for that specific person or for a situation like that.
I am thankful for my friend Jorge, since he just gave me birthday present without me mentioning that day.
#2 – Be specific.
The statement “I am thankful for the weather” is a very specific one.
You can be thankful for that. I know I often am. You see, for all its humidity in Summer and the chill in Winter (if you are from Chicago, don’t laugh, we have cold months here also) New York City has the ideal climate for me. When I was in high school, we would travel with our orchestra through Europe every summer – often into countries that bordered the Mediterranean. It was warm, and there was an ocean.
So every year living in the New York area, it feels like being back in those countries. Ocean and warm weather. So I am always thankful for the weather.
We can still improve this, though. If the day’s weather is mixed, we can, we can be thankful for the sun during the two hours he comes out between the rainy clouds. Or we are grateful for the extra hours in summer evenings.
If we think back about these events, we recall what specifically happened. If you are like me, the observation of the sun breaking through the rain clouds feels like magic – a new beginning out of the chaos.
In the same spirit, these days, I am thankful not just for the fall, but the leafs changing from green to yellow, red and brown. Sometimes half of the tree is still green. Makes for great color mixes.
When you think about specifics rather than stay general, you will recall the feelings and the state that was associated with a certain fact.
#3 – Simplicity.
This is a variation of #2 – “Be Specific”.
Sometimes small effects we hardly notice have a complex machinery behind it. For example, take getting out of bed in the morning. You can be thankful for that.
Yet, what precedes that action? You opening your eyes.
Can you be thankful for that very moment? Like clockwork, your body automatically changes its whole physiology from a sleeping to a waking state. How?
Think about it. These are complex changes resulting from an intricate symphony of procedures. Sometimes triggered by your alarm clock – and sometimes not! Neurons that directed your dreams and sleep patterns must become silent, neurons that are directing your eyelid muscles become active and others now have the task to immediately deal with all the impressions from the outside and get on with your “waking agenda”.
And all these procedures take place while you notice nothing but a simple opening of your eyes. For this simplicity, this very specific moment, you can be thankful – because there is often much much more to it than you consciously realize.
So given that knowledge, you can be grateful for the simple step of opening your eyes in the morning when you wake up. I know I am.
#4 – Visualize past experiences and determine your state.
As mentioned in Gorilla Mindset, every experience we make, everything that happens to us is connected to an emotional state. Great experiences make us happy, and we can recall that state later on.
For example, I found an Italian bakery that sells excellent canoli. This made me happy – because these canoli reminded me of German pastry and thus of home.
So look back at your past. Recall any great experiences you had. Now that they are present in your mind, can you transfer that happiness to an event that happened recently?
#5 – Can you be happy for negative things as well?
Can you be happy for sitting in the commute because you get the opportunity to use modern technology? Too often, we are taking things for granted, as Louis C.K. demonstrated in a recent video.
For example, we are flying with near the speed of sound, 10,000 miles above the ground – but all some people think about is not being able to use the internet on board of the plane.
Next time you are in a “bad situation”, look around. Step back and figure out where you exactly are. Location-wise. What did you do in the last months? What have you planned for the future? Is there anything positive that you can still take with you right now? If you would like to have more ideas how to reframe potentially negative situations, you can check out my earlier post about “hard” gratitude problems.
#6 – Track your days and observe the transition between tasks.
Write a simple to-do list and then track how the day went while you cross off your items.
Focus especially on what happens in between your steps – are you taking a breather? Are you reading a book, running an errand, talking to someone?
How do you feel during these time intervals. Are you happy you are getting something done? Are you sad the activity is over? Or do you even lack a clear transition from one item to the next? Are you feeling extra motivated by working non-stop, picking up momentum?
For me personally, finishing a task induces a happy sense of accomplishment. Sometimes I am listening to music – this enhances my state. And makes me remember some of the music we played ourselves, as mentioned in point #3 above.
#7 – The absence of pain.
Can you be happy about all the things you don’t experience?
For example, we only realize the mere existence of our body when we injure ourselves. Do you feel your teeth? Not at all, right? At least. I hope!
Because once you get a hole in one of them, you can experience excruciating pain. During those times, you know your teeth are there. Although you may wish they weren’t…
So why not being happy and grateful for not experiencing any pain? The absence of tooth ache. Or the fact that you don’t have any kidney or gall stones. Quite unpleasant.
For that matter, by the way, I am grateful that my gall bladder has been removed.
#8 – Flesh out your life vision.
Not everyone needs to be a high-stakes CEO at a fast-growing company.
We can also just work to pay our living expenses and then completely focus on family and friends outside of work. This seems to be a somewhat underappreciated life vision – the internet, book stores, and I am sure TV as well – are full with commercials that teach you how to “get rich quick”, have six-pack abs and go on crazy adventures.
However, there are also those of us who actually manage to be happy with where they are right now.
If we can develop our life vision and determine that living in the countryside with our family, regularly meeting with some friends and take hiking trips to the countryside is all we need to be happy, then that’s what we should work towards.
And maybe, by developing our life vision, we can already find some areas that we have already reached or are very close to. Then that is something to be grateful for.
#9 – Meditation and presence.
I believe regularly “unplugging” from the day by just letting our minds go for a few minutes can actually make us feel grateful.
The constant noise and thoughts in our head distract us from what really matters to us. Instead, we can choose to go back a step and just let our mind and spirit decide what really matters.
In addition, learning to be present will often bring us in closer to what we are currently doing, and then we can be happy for being where we are at this very moment.
I am actually looking at my keyboard right now. I am just typing, and I am thankful for being able to just do that day in, day out.
Gorilla Mindset has a complete chapter on presence.
#10 – No expectations.
If we manage to lose our expectations while we work towards our goals, we can become infinitely more grateful.
This results from being present (point #8 above). We only work on the next step and don’t expect any specific results. The quality of our work is in our hands. How other people react to it is not in our control.
Training ourselves to see things this way means that we not only become happier, but also more in tune with and focussed on our work, and as a result, we work much more efficient towards following our goal and realizing our vision.
#11 – Talk to friends.
Many things become clearer to us when we talk with others.
Maybe we bang ourselves up about events that happened in the past and give out harsh judgement about ourselves. Then, friends remind us that we also did something else, which was good. For example.
I remember thinking that I would not deserve being in grad school. My group leader at the time, however, reminded me of the successful career I had so far.
There is always a silver lining. Sometimes it takes a friend to point that out. Me to you, for example, right now!
#12 – Strive for acting on one of the items from your gratitude list.
Showing thankfulness, even in the form of a gratitude journal, can become old fast when it is all talk and never results in any action.
I thus recommend to take one or two items every day that you are thankful for and act on them this or the next day.
For example, if you are thankful for the fall, you could take 30 minutes in your lunch break to go out and take some photos. Or if you are thankful for friends, just call them or write them a letter.
Here is a list that shows you 101 Random Acts Of Kindness. Very surely there are some steps you can take action on for what you are grateful for.
If you execute on your happiness, you anchor gratefulness within your life and ultimately personality.
#13 – Give, so you receive gratefulness.
A lot of ideas in the list mentioned in #11 are about giving value to others. The more of these small acts you do, the more likely you will (a) be happier and (b) sooner or later receive some positive reactions.
Why does giving makes you happy? Think about who can give. Someone who has a big reservoir from which he can freely take, right? It works the other way, too.
If you give, your mind will assume that you have enough resources to give away. You basically train yourself for a mindset of abundance.
#14 – Become a minimalist.
So many items we have are nothing more than “stuff”.
Really important for our life? I doubt it. If you determine what you really need and what not, you win on multiple fronts.
- You give those things that are still useful away to others.
- You lighten the load on your mind.
- You now focus on a few things – but those are really valuable to you.
#15 – Look at your environment.
Right now, a fire truck has pulled up in front of my house. Upon closer inspection, there are also two ambulances. Four EMS technicians/nurses were entering the house across the street. When I went downstairs, the fire truck and one of the ambulances were pulling away. So… probably nothing tragic. Yet, I found several points to be grateful for.
First of all, if I become sick, three fire trucks will come pick me up.
Second, while I was downstairs, I noticed my mailbox lock was lose, so I fixed that.
And lastly, when I arrived upstairs, I realized that the absence of an elevator trains my legs every time I walk up. That is something to be grateful for as well.
#16 – My Tea-Penguin
No words necessary.
If you want to check out “Become an Idea Machine”, you can do so here.
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Do you have additional ideas to show gratitude?
What are you grateful for?
Let us know in the comments below!
(Top Picture taken from Wikimedia Commons.)