8 Easy Steps to Showing More Gratitude
10 days. That’s what we have left in this year. Have you ever noticed that when we think about the end of the year, that we tend to summarize the whole things as either good or bad? Why do we do that? Each year is going to bring both the good times and bad with it. It got me thinking as to what justifies us calling a year one or the other. Certainly, there are events that can move us to deem a year as bad. Life is filled with ups and downs and it has a way of throwing us a curveball when we least expect it. But since we can’t change the past or the things that have happened to us, perhaps we can look at the not so great highlights as ways we can grow stronger.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. In her book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”, psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker, Amy Morin, lays out tips and inspiring examples she has learned from in order to overcome her own tragedies, grief, and setbacks. Her story is sobering but inspiring. I feel fortunate to personally not have experienced the sort of loss she has, but her “13 tips” can be applied to develop habits that can help us overcome a bad day or even a tragic loss.
One of her tips includes countering self-pity with gratitude. No one is immune to hard times, whether it comes from illness or some other personal tragedy. But there’s something to learn from in how we react to these situations. We can immerse ourselves in the feeling of how unfair, how hard it is, and how we want things to be different. We can fall in the trap of thinking we can’t handle one more loss, one more bad day. This can hold us back dealing with the reality of our situation. It’s through this realization that Amy came up with the 13 things that she had to overcome in order to gain strength. 13 things that held her back from getting better if she allowed them to take hold of her. She learned to focus on what NOT to do because she realized that the bad habits are the ones that prevent us from reaching our full potential.
In her book Amy says, “You can have all the good habits in the world, but if you keep the bad habits alongside the good ones you will struggle to reach your goals. You are only as good as your worst habits. Bad habits are like heavy weights that you drag around as you go about your day. They will slow you down, tire you out, and frustrate you. Despite your hard work and talent you will struggle to reach your full potential when you have certain thoughts, behaviors, and feelings holding you back.”
“Imagine a man who goes to the gym every day. He works out for 2 hours and keeps careful record of the exercise he performs so he can track his progress. After 6 months, he isn’t noticing much of a change. He feels frustrated he isn’t losing weight and gaining muscle. He tells his friends and family that it doesn’t make sense why he isn’t looking and feeling any better, after all, he rarely misses a workout. What he leaves out of the equation is that fact that he enjoys a treat on his drive home from the gym every day. But after all that exercise he feels hungry and tells himself that he’s worked hard and deserves a treat. So each day he eats one dozen donuts on his way home.”
Seems ridiculous right? But we are all guilty of this type of behavior. We work hard to do all the things that we think will make us better. But we forget to focus on the things that might be sabotaging our efforts. Avoiding these 13 habits helped her through grief. Getting rid of them will help you develop mental strength, which is essential to dealing with all of life’s problems; big or small. No matter what your goals are, you will be better equipped to reach your full potential when you are feeling mentally strong.
I’m not going to give away Amy’s 13 tips. You can pick up the physical or audio version on Amazon. But here is one of my favorite tips:
Mentally strong people will replace self-pity with gratitude. One of the hallmarks of mentally strong people—those who aren’t knocked down when things get tough—is that they don’t spend precious time pitying themselves when facing difficulties. So what do they do instead? They replace self-pity with gratitude. Take Marla Runyan. Not only has she run the New York Marathon in a little over 2 hours, she also has a master’s degree in education and has written a book. Impressive, right? But perhaps even more so is that she has accomplished all of this while being legally blind. She set world records at the 1992 and 1996 Paralympics.
The key to her success lies within her refusal to indulge in self-pity. She always refused to see her illness as a disability and instead, saw it as an opportunity; a gift that has enabled her to become a world-class athlete. Rather than dwelling on what her illness took away from her, she’s actually grateful for what it gave her.
Of course, it’s difficult to find reasons to be grateful in the negative things. We may never get to that point, especially at first. It’s normal, maybe even healthy to feel self-pity during rough times. But there are other ways we can incorporate gratitude. One of my personal favorite ways includes a small weekly habit that can be incorporated into your routine with a fairly small amount of time. Yet the payoff is huge.
Each week I write one small note card to someone who doesn’t expect it. In the note I include a kind word or something I am grateful for about that person. If it doesn’t relate directly to me, I find a small thing they do that helps others. For instance, even though my son is 18 and out of school, I have written to some of his past teachers and mentors who I felt helped him incorporate habits that he has taken into his adult life. On other occasions, I have written to neighbors who kept up their yard nicely, even if I haven’t met them before. It’s easy to stop on the side of the road and jot down their address. You can address it to “My Neighbor”.
To help keep the habit alive, I buy small cards or notepaper no larger than 4x6 in size. The point being is to keep the card size small which limits the room you have to write. That makes the task at hand seem simple. I’m only able to get a few sentences in which means I don’t have to take a lot of time thinking out what I want to say. This is important since if the task is too overwhelming, it simply won’t happen. It also means that the few sentences I write must be simple and to the point. They can’t get too flowery, but must include a reason as to why I am writing it, why I am grateful for something they did, or said, or are. It takes just a few minutes and then I read it over, seal it in a matching envelope and prepare it for mailing.
This exercise only takes 10 minutes each week but when I’m finished, it always makes me feel refreshed. It takes your mind off of yourself and moves to you think of someone in your life that you are thankful for. It also makes you feel good that you will brighten someones day. Even though it’s simple, it’s nice to know that someone else noticed. That someone cares.
To keep the habit alive, here are a few things in addition to keeping the card small that ensures I take the time each week to follow through.
I only purchase 5-10 cards with the same design. Part of the fun for me is getting to write on a pretty card with a fun design that I like. If I have 20-30 of the same card, it just gets boring for some reason. I love opening a new pack of small artistic cards that were either handmade or have something unique about them. Having different cards also ensures you don’t send the same old card a second time to the same person. When I travel to a new place or find a new shop I always search out the stationary section and browse for cards, envelopes, and stickers or stamps.
I keep a large amount of cards on hand. Over the years, I’ve gained quite the collection. I like having a variety to choose from and it seems that when I start the task there’s always a design that calls out to me. The perfect one that fits the person just right. The exercise of thumbing through my cards to find the right one also makes me feel like the process is a bit more meaningful. This is when I start thinking about what I want to write and why I am grateful for this person.
I bought a custom return stamp that looks like beautiful calligraphy. It makes it so I don’t have to write out my return address and it’s a pretty finish to the card. I often stamp it on the back of the envelope.
I keep a nice collection of sealing stickers on hand. It’s a nice touch to seal the envelope with a beautiful sticker. I like the ones that look like brown kraft paper with a simple image of a flower or tree on them. It adds a nice little touch to the envelope as well as adding to part of the experience of the recipient when opening the card. If it looks pretty, the whole experience, as simple as it is, seems a little more fun.
I write with an erasable pen. I prefer the Pilot Frixion ballpoint pen. You can buy them in a variety of colors and it makes it so that if you mess up the card or the envelope, it’s easily fixable. With so little room to write, I also want to make sure I’m to the point and once in a while I’ll start a sentence off wrong and need to reword it. These pens allow you to do that.
Don’t run out of stamps. Keep enough stamps on hand so you don’t have an excuse NOT to mail it. I don’t think too much about the process. If I did, I’d never write it in the first place. The same is true if you don’t mail it right away. If it sits on your desk waiting for a stamp, you may second guess yourself and not mail it at all.
When I’m done writing the card, and before I seal it away in an envelope, I take a photo of the front and back of the card and put the photo in a note app. I prefer Evernote. I like to keep copies of the cards so I can remember who I wrote to and when. I also like to remember what I said to make sure that I don’t say the same thing again next time. If you start to wonder about that, it may prevent the habit from continuing on over the years. Every now and then I open up the app to the section with the cards and browse through some of the things I sent. The process always makes me feel good about what I did and brings on the feeling of gratitude as I reflect on all the amazing people in my life.
Keep a list of people in your life to write to. Make sure it’s in an app that is easy to add to. That way you can easily access it when you come across someone you want to add. Remember, this can be anyone and shouldn’t be limited to your close friends only. You can include co-workers, teachers, neighbors, the city police officers you don’t even know (write it to the whole group!), a business owner of a local business you appreciate. Really, it can be anyone. Just make a list and keep adding to it. Eventually you’ll have a list so large that it will take you a year to get through the whole thing.
As we near the beginning of a new year and end out an old one, it’s always nice to reflect on reasons we are grateful. Perhaps we can close this year out and say, “It was a good year’. But even if that isn’t the case, make a pact with yourself to find small things you are grateful for throughout the coming year. Write them down so you can reflect on them next December. Sometimes when we do that, we find all sorts of things we forgot about that were reasons to be thankful. And perhaps, take the time to write out a nice little note now and then. It will bring a little spark of joy for both you, and someone else.