Article at a Glance:
- Cultivating a gratitude habit may be the key to your happiness.
- According to Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, gratitude is simply realizing that every moment is a gift and choosing to enjoy that gift.
- Steindl-Rast recommends the “stop, look, go” method of practicing gratitude.
- Every week, pick a few things and put a sticker on them to remind yourself how cool they are.
- Sometimes (a lot of the time, actually) gratefulness is just remembering to slow down and enjoy life because there’s a lot here to enjoy.
We’ve all heard about the importance of gratitude and the pitfalls of taking people and things in our lives for granted.
In fact, you’ve probably heard about it so much that it doesn’t sink in anymore. “Yeah yeah yeah,” you’re probably thinking. “Be grateful, give thanks, I’ve heard it all before.”
You may even find this advice trite and annoying. After all, life is full of challenges, and it’s hard to feel grateful when you’re going through a hairy divorce, you’re 10k in credit card debt, and your kids just colored on the walls, again.
The well-intentioned advice to “be grateful” can feel insensitive, like you should just sweep your challenging feelings under the proverbial rug. It can feel like you’re expected to paint on a smile and be grateful for painful things when you’re really not.
But gratitude isn’t about forcing anything. It’s about cultivating a habit that may actually be the key to your happiness.
Gratitude and Happiness: Which Comes First?
According to Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, “Grateful people are joyful people, and the more joyful people we have, the more joyful the entire world will be.” That’s a big deal!
In his 2013 TED Talk, Steindl-Rast talks about how gratitude can change our world and offers a refreshingly approachable take on being thankful. Watch it here:
According to Steindl-Rast, gratitude is not turning a blind eye to tragedy or injustice. It’s not pushing yourself to be grateful for EVERYTHING. It’s simply realizing that every moment is a gift and choosing to enjoy that gift. It’s noticing what there is to appreciate in that given moment.
How to Make Gratitude a Habit
We love Steindl-Rast’s method for practicing gratitude: Stop, look, go.
This reminds us to pause, look around us, and choose how to move forward in the moment, whether that is by being grateful for that moment or not.
So how do we actually remember to do that?
We can easily become desensitized to everyday abundance and start taking it for granted. Electricity. Refrigeration. Indoor plumbing. The Internet. Instant Pots. Air conditioning. Chocolate. It’s so easy to forget how amazing these things really are!
Often, the hardest part of this is the stop. As a society, we’re generally not great at stopping.
We need reminders, and also the discipline to actually stop when we see those reminders. (How often have you been presented with the opportunity to do something and then thought “Nah, I’m too busy”?)
So how can you build “stop signs” into your life?
In his talk, Steindl-Rast suggests using stickers (but sticky notes, artsy signs, or anything similar can work).
Get yourself some smiley face stickers. Or draw a heart, a smile, “thank you”, or STOP on a Post-It. Anything that will remind you to pause for a moment will do the trick.
Every week, pick a few new things and put a little sticker on them to remind yourself how cool they are. Think of things like your toilet, your cookie jar (cookies whenever you want? What luxury!), your dashboard, or your bed.
Or, try setting a timer on your phone for a few quick “gratitude breaks” every day. When the timer goes off, tune into the moment and see what there is to appreciate.
Once you’ve mastered the stop (or close enough), the look and the go parts get a lot easier! When you’re reminded to slow down, take a moment to look around or think about the opportunity in that moment. What can you appreciate in that moment? How can you respond to life in that moment?
Make your choice, and go.
To Be Grateful Is to Be Joyful
“That’s what life is all about. To enjoy, to enjoy what is given to us.” -David Steindl-Rast
Sometimes (a lot of the time, actually) gratefulness is just remembering to slow down and enjoy life because there’s a lot here to enjoy. There’s so much to appreciate.
This is about living gratefully in general, not just in having grateful experiences. It’s being aware that every moment is a GIVEN moment, it’s a gift. It’s the most valuable thing we have.
Again, we can’t and don’t have to be grateful for everything, but we can strive to be “grateful in each moment for the opportunity each moment gives.” Even difficult moments have opportunities. And if you pass up on one opportunity, you get another. And another.
Try it now: What opportunity is this moment offering you? What is there to enjoy and appreciate right now? Let us know in the comments!
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