In honor of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a little about my journey of gratitude. A long time ago, I used to think that gratitude was about finding things to be thankful for. It was about showing appreciation for what I had been given or afforded in life. Being thankful was like a simple prayer: thank you for my family, friends, house. On occasion, I was able to throw in something like being grateful for an accomplishment or recognition. It wasn’t daily and it was usually only when I was told to think about it, like on Thanksgiving.

But over the last few years, I’ve had a few things happen in my life that have rocked my world. As a foster mom, I had to say goodbye to two children I’d loved for two-and-a-half years. After losing a baby, I did not get pregnant for several years inexplicably.  I can write these painful events down in just a few words but the pain of them ran thousands of words deep, if not more. There were moments where I felt broken, really broken. And gratitude was what saved me.

I read many years ago that for every negative thing you hear on the news or say to yourself, you need to say three positive things.  This is to combat depression but it’s really just great advice overall.

So whenever I’m feeling hopeless or a little less hopeful than usual, I force myself to think of things I’m grateful for.  Of course there are things that are easy to be thankful for: My healthy, happy daughter. My ultra-supportive husband. My family who are always there when I need them. My safe and comfortable home.

And absolutely we should be thankful for the most important things in our life.  But if we want to really be truly thankful and live a life full of gratitude, we have to dig deeper. It has to be more than the obvious and it has to be more than three or four “things.” And the hardest part: it has to be every day.  Living a life full of gratitude is a lifestyle. This, in my experience, does truly change your life.  Your outlook shifts to focus on all the wonderful parts of your life.  Yes, there are negative things that happen.  Yes, there are things that will rock your world, leaving you feeling shaken.  You may even question your faith.  When gratitude becomes a way of living though, you can feel happier daily and become more resilient against the difficult events that will inevitably happen in your life.

So, how do you get more grateful? People do this in many ways. When I need reminders or things feel harder, I physically write down five to ten things I’m grateful for. Beyond just my family and my house, I dig deeper.  Something about thinking a little harder and physically writing can really help you feel present and grounded. In moments that feel very difficult, I list out loud basic things I’m thankful for like breathing and a house to live in. For panic attacks, people are encouraged to notice something from each sense to help ground them.  Gratitude can also make you feel grounded and present.  I try to practice gratitude when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed. I have had great success with feeling more calm and focused afterward.

I also have read several books where the main themes are about practicing gratitude daily.  I think this is the best place to start. Practicing gratitude daily can look however you want it to! You can have a chalk board where you write five things you’re grateful for that day.  You can have a gratitude journal where you write three things you’re grateful for everyday (wouldn’t that be neat to look back at over the years?). You can start your day by listing one or two things you’re grateful for while brushing your teeth.  You do not need to have a lot of time and it doesn’t need to take away from anything else in your life to start practicing daily gratitude.

For me, I find a moment in the day and focus on all that I have to be grateful for that day. Notice the small things. Focus on gratitude for even the most basic parts of life like paying bills and hot running water. Instead of being frustrated that I am walking a baby in the middle of the night, I focus on how grateful I am to have a baby to walk with. When I’m tired and want to rest but have laundry and work and a toddler who asks for my attention, I think of how grateful I am for clothing and work to do and a strong willed daughter who knows what she needs.  It’s a shift in focus that changes how you look at everything.

I encourage you today and every day to practice gratitude.  What does that look like for you?

Here’s an exercise to help you start to notice things that are different and how to be grateful for smaller things.  What can you notice in the video below? First you may just see a beautiful dragonfly.  But if you re-watch, what else do you notice? Do you see its beautiful wings?  Do you notice the vibrant colors? This is like a gratitude exercise.  Notice the details of your life and be grateful for them.