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Moving Gratitude from a Post to a Practice

I love seeing all the gratitude posts during Thanksgiving, and I deeply subscribe to the power gratitude has in shaping our happiness. Though gratitude posts don’t go very far unless backed up by action throughout the year, so how do you move gratitude from a post to practice? Consider gratitude is actually three things that work together.

Orientation

Gratitude is more powerful when you’re comparing one condition with another, which requires an understanding of your orientation in the world. Take for example my husband Christian and I just got back from a 2 week trip to Asia and the Middle East. During our stay in Dubai, I was reading more about how homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in the UAE. Disturbing for sure and we’re extra cautious about any public displays of affection as a result, and knowing that makes me grateful for our hard-fought and still evolving rights in the US. It’s possible to be grateful for those conditions in the US without any additional perspective, but my gratitude feels more connected and meaningful when I read about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the Middle East.

Action: Understanding your orientation in the world requires movement outside of your comfort zone and learning about others’ experiences, particularly hardships, helps. What can you do in 2022 to broaden your cultural perspective?

Acknowledgment of Appreciation

“I love you unless I tell you otherwise.” Linguistic satire, or how we often operate? Particularly in long-term business or personal relationships, we move into the “assumptive phase” and reduce how much acknowledgement we offer assuming the other person already knows. Not expressing gratitude becomes as routine as expressing it once was. We have to work hard to avoid this because without expression, we don’t get the same serotonin effect which makes us feel better, and the other person certainly feels nothing either. Outwardly acknowledging our gratitude is therefore critical to bringing it to life emotionally.

Action: If expressing gratitude doesn’t come naturally for you, build it into your calendar. Nothing shows you care like booking an appointment to say so and relying on a system rather than your mood. For example, I thought I loved birthdays until I met my husband and saw how important his birthday is for him. He’s not alone and so I put birthdays of key people in my calendar so I can acknowledge them. Simple and effective.

Eager Anticipation of the Future

Gratitude doesn’t mean you’re content. Quite the opposite. Gratitude also eagerly anticipates a future state. At first, these two ideas seem mutually exclusive, but they are not. The key is not to diminish the present by thinking the future will be somehow better. That’s a trap worth avoiding. Instead hold the person or a thought, or whatever you’re grateful for in your mind parallel to the thought of the future state you’re also excited about. Don’t separate them, combine them. If this seems abstract, then focus on “appreciating the journey” which represents both the past, present, and future.

Action: Take two 3X5 notecards, on one write what you’re grateful for today, and on the other write what you are grateful for tomorrow, but in the present tense. And hold them together until you can feel gratitude for both without diminishing the other.

As we move quickly to the end of the year, challenge yourself around gratitude. How can you deepen your experience with it? Perhaps you could broaden your perspective and better understand your orientation in the world. Travel helps with that. Or take more action to acknowledge those you’re grateful for, with the assistance of technology. Maybe it’s about being grateful for both the present and future states, particularly if the present state is less than desirable.

Do yourself a favor this holiday season: move gratitude from a post to a practice.

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