You are thankful. You recognize the benefit that gratitude gives you. You feel a sense of reverence, a sense of connection, or a sense of joy for the people and things that surround you.
You're ready to go to the next level and develop a grateful way of life. You don't need to overhaul your attitude. A few simple steps, including learning how to steer clear of negativity, will help you amp up your gratitude attitude.
Change It Up
Prioritizing gratitude through a daily practice such as journaling or creating a list of what you're grateful for are two effective activities. Unfortunately, our brains adapt and over time the efficacy of your gratitude practice diminishes.
Think back to when you learned a skill like driving. At first, you had to think about which pedal was the brake and which one was the accelerator. You had to learn how far before a stop sign to begin slowing down and the difference between turn signal and the windshield wiper indicators. Over time, you memorize these skills and the control center for these actions moves to a different region of the brain.
Changing your gratitude practice so that it isn’t always the same will actually make it more effective in the long run. For example, whenever we eat at the dining room table as a family, we all take a turn saying the best thing that happened that day and what we're grateful for. When I go to bed, I write three things down that I'm grateful for from that day.
To change it up, I'll try to choose things I've never said before. I might challenge myself to only cite something I'm grateful for—instead of listing something I'm grateful "not" to have such as cold.
Taking time to ensure you don’t adapt will keep it a priority and increase your experience of gratitude.
Don’t Get Caught In the Negativity Bias
The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry is another "enemy of gratitude," according to Cornell psychologist Thomas Gilovich. This is our tendency to see the obstacles more clearly than the solutions—a concept known elsewhere in psychology as “negativity bias.”
Telling a story about overcoming headwinds, which fosters gratitude, will increase your experience, according to Gilovich. By making it part of your unique personal story, you can turn tragedy into triumph. People who are able to see the good that has come out of a potentially negative situation are able to tap into a fresh source of gratitude.
What You're Thankful for Matters
In an attempt to understand why materialism undermines the pursuit of happiness, scientists Marsha Richins and Scott Dawson discovered that materialistic people report particularly low levels of gratitude. A related study by Todd Kashdan and William Breen, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, found that materialistic people experience more negative emotion such as fear and sadness, and less positive emotion.
How can you use this knowledge to give your gratitude practices a boost? Think about the experiences you enjoy. Focus on your adventures, relaxing moments, and connections. By associating your gratitude with experiences and relationships over material things, you ensure your gratitude attitude will continue even when you don’t get that new car, chocolate dessert, or a new pair of shoes.
Align Your Intentions with Your Gratitude
Take a week (maybe this week!) and be a student of your gratitude. Develop a hyper-awareness of when you are thankful, how you express your thanks, and how your physical body feels when you're experiencing and expressing this emotion. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:
- Don’t overdose—use gratitude like a spice, not a meal
- Don’t let gratitude prevent you from seeing your role or value. Sometimes we belittle our own involvement in successful ventures by applauding others around us.
- Don’t let gratitude mask insecurity in romantic relationships. Using thanks as a way to endear yourself to a partner when you aren’t confident about the relationship is avoiding, not embracing reality.
- Don’t let power dynamics get in the way. At work, too much gratitude to a “superior” could be a bad if it's seen as a tactic rather than genuine act.
- Don’t apply it to the wrong person. If someone is abusive to you, don't act grateful in return.
- Do receive gratitude from others gracefully. Practice enjoying the experience of being thanked without downplaying your role.
Phrasing your gratitude in an “I” statement that includes what you are thankful for, why you're thankful for it, and how it makes you feel is the perfect equation for amping up your gratitude attitude.