A few practical ideas for feeling grateful more often.

This time of year, of course, you hear a lot about gratitude. There are lots of reminders to be grateful, and articles like this one, touting the health benefits of gratitude, including better health, better sleep, and less anxiety.

I buy it. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that once a basic level of needs is satisfied — shelter, food, water, human contact — how happy you are is largely determined by what goes on inside your brain.

This is not to say that I’m good at this, because I’m not. My talent lies more in finding the flaws in any situation than finding the positive. I’m just persuaded by the idea. So, with Thanksgiving coming up, it seemed like a good time to try to incorporate more gratitude in my life.

But another thing I’ve learned is that it’s hard to develop new habits.

I had to develop a habit of being neater when I moved in with my husband after living alone in increasing sloth for years, and it took time and repetition. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve told myself that I was going to do 30 push-ups a day or spend five minutes a day meditating, only to have it last for a mere day or two. Similarly, I know I’ll never sit down daily or even weekly and make a list of things I feel grateful for, at least not more than once or twice.

So I spent some time thinking about practical ways I could remind myself to feel grateful that I would actually carry through with, until — hopefully — it becomes a habit. I think these ideas might work for me, and maybe serve as inspiration for someone else.

1. Buy some pretty cards, like these or theseand use them for thank-you notes. Putting aside thank-you notes for gifts received, I’ve probably written one thank-you note in my life for every 10 times I have thought about doing it. But the few times I have actually followed through on my intentions, it made me feel great. Not to mention how nice it feels to receive a thank-you note—recently, I was charmed to receive one from a new resident in my building after she got locked out of her apartment while she was moving in and I let her use my computer and phone. I sincerely love pretty note cards and this would not only give me an excuse to buy some, but hopefully give me the kick in the pants I need to actually write thank-you notes.

2. Pick an activity you already do every day and set an intention of feeling grateful at the beginning. I practice yoga or run nearly every day. Setting an intention for your yoga practice is something yoga teachers often mention but that I never do unless prompted at the beginning of class. I’m probably mangling the concept, but I like the idea of applying it to running as well as yoga. Then, with something I do most days anyway and really enjoy, I can take a moment at the beginning to appreciate it and set an intention of feeling grateful more often. For someone else it could, of course, be a different activity.

3. Get a “gratitude journal” iPhone app. When I wrote above that I know I would never sit down daily and make a list of things I feel grateful for, I might have lied. I think it could happen–if not every day, at least once a week, with the right iPhone app. I’m already in the habit of using my phone to remind me of things, and I’m also in the habit of pulling it out to entertain myself whenever I’m waiting in line for more than 30 seconds, walking down the street, on public transportation, and so on. I could see myself using those moments to make a quick entry in a gratitude journal.

 

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