Gratitude Is Self-Care Gold—Here's How to Actually Make It a Habit
It’s no secret that feeling thankful for what you have can give you a serious mood boost.
But sometimes, gratitude feels downright impossible. You might have a fight, wake up on the wrong side of bed, or miss a student loan payment—not exactly moments that inspire a lot of appreciation. Even the good days can rush by, passing before you’ve had a moment to let your gratitude sink in. Then it’s onto the next moment, in constant pursuit.
Sometimes, gratitude feels downright impossible.
The good news: It’s easier than you think to embrace gratitude. All it takes is getting intentional about your daily "I'm grateful for..." practice—and doing it in a way that works for you.
Below, 7 fresh ways to make gratitude a habit.
1. Turn Loading Time into Gratitude Time
According to Psychology Today, one of the first components of a habit is a cue—aka a trigger that reminds us to do that thing we want to make a habit. If you think about it, a lot of your habits already have triggers—if you’re hungry, you eat; if you’re bored, you pick up your phone; if you’re bloated, out come the stretchy pants.
James Clear, a habit and productivity writer, explains that one of his favorite types of triggers are “preceding triggers.” It's a tactic he learned from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. “Your phone buzzes, so you pick it up to check your latest text message. The little notification bar lights up on Facebook, so you click it to see what it signals—these are examples of habits that are triggered by a preceding event,” Clear writes on his blog.
Try to set a new preceding trigger that reminds you to get grateful. Think of a small moment in your day-to-day (riding the subway? locking the front door?) that you could pair with a five-second gratitude exercise. Then, every day, intentionally link that trigger with gratitude until it becomes as instanteous as putting cream in your coffee.
●︎ Loading time: We spent countless minutes a day just waiting for tech to load, whether it’s our Instagram feed or work email. Start using “load time” as a cue for you to think of one thing you’re grateful for.
●︎ Brushing your teeth: Dentists recommended we brush our teeth for at least two minutes—ample time to do a mental gratitude practice.
●︎ Going to the bathroom: Yup—sometimes, it’s the only free time we have to ourselves. Take advantage of it and make sure you take a moment for gratitude before you flush.
●︎ Pouring or waiting for your coffee: It always takes a few minutes to get that first cup of joe—take a deep breath while you wait and think of something you’re grateful for?
●︎ After you read your daily Shine Text: The Shine iOS app sends daily motivation plus prompts you to log one thing you're grateful for every day—consider it a pre-set gratitude cue.
2. Make It a Group Project
Getting friends and family involved can help make the practice stick.
Next time you’re out to dinner with your VIPs, or sitting down with a partner or children, go around the table and share what you’re grateful for today. You’ll have others to hold you accountable, and expressing your gratitude out loud can help it sink in, leaving you feeling more energized, attentive and happy, according to Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino.
Expressing your gratitude out loud can help it sink in.
Plus, hearing what others are grateful for may help you recognize similar moments in your day. If your BF is thankful for a coffee break with friends, for example, you might feel a ping of gratitude the next time you duck out for java with an office pal.
3. Thank Your Body at the End of a Workout
Use your workout as a chance to get grateful.
At the end of each sweat session, thank your body for its strength and your mind for pushing past the tough moments. Try fitting it in while you stretch your quads, or write a gratitude note on your water bottle to jog your memory with each sip.
Bonus: Those quick moments of thanks might help you get to the gym more often. A 2003 study found that those who practiced gratitude exercised for an average of 1.5 more hours per week than those who focused on daily hassles.
4. Set an Alarm
If a “preceding trigger” is hard for you to nail down, an alarm might be a better, more direct reminder to get grateful. It's a tip straight from one of our Shine members.
To sprinkle moments of gratitude throughout your day, set a "Get grateful" alarm on your phone.
Schedule it to go off when you know you’ll either have, or need to take, a quick break, then give yourself a minute to feel thankful. You can list what you’re grateful for so far in the day, or just appreciate having a moment to shut your eyes and focus inward. Breathe, reset, then set your alarm for the following day.
5. Pay It Forward
Volunteering or donating can make you more aware of what you have, and what it means to have it. You’ll be helping those around you, and giving yourself a boost, too.
6. Create a Gratitude Mantra
Ever recognize a perfect moment—say, a sunny day at the beach, or a dinner shared with friends—then panic at the thought that you’ll never experience it again? Stop a spiral in its tracks by repeating a mantra of appreciation when the going gets good.
It can be as simple as “Thank you for this moment,” or even just “In this moment, I am grateful.” Use it to help you get grounded in the present and experience a little gratitude.
7. Say Thank You
Feeling grateful for a mentor’s help, or a friend’s advice? Let them know! Try writing out your thanks in a letter or text, or pick up the phone and make an old-fashioned call.
Verbalizing your appreciation will brighten their day—and help you build new relationships. A 2014 study found that those who thanked new acquaintances for their help were more likely to develop those relationships and make a new friend.
8. See the Lesson in Mistakes and Misses
There’s no need to Pollyanna your way out of a rough day—sometimes, bad thing happen for no reason. But most missteps can teach you something.
Most missteps can teach you something.
Say you’ve started a new job, only to find that it’s not a great fit—you and your boss don’t click, or the work doesn’t feel rewarding. It sucks in the short term, but you’ll come away with a better idea of your skills and what you’re looking for in a career.
Try looking back to past mistakes and identifying what you’ve learned from them, then reminding yourself that the same thing will happen with current—and future—mistakes.
With time and hindsight, you’ll be grateful for the lessons learned.
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