The practice of gratitude is incomparably grounding in our lives. Ideally, it’s an inner quality we actively and purposefully cultivate, akin to John F. Kennedy’s statement that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.
But gratitude can also feel elusive. This is especially true when we’re used to seeing the glass half-empty, or feel that a problem-first approach is the only way to truly address the challenges in our lives.
Entrepreneurs and executives may also balk at the idea that gratitude is a business value. Expert observations seem to back up the idea that if you’re high up in the world, gratitude can feel counterintuitive. In fact, last year, a Harvard Business Review study concluded that the more powerful someone was, the less they expressed it.
However, research also shows us that expressing gratitude produces an evident and often immediate benefit. Our brains release dopamine and serotonin when we feel genuinely grateful, leading to better moods, a more resilient mindset and even greater productivity.
The way to start feeling more grateful is to be more grateful. It really is that straightforward, even if it seems difficult at first. Here are three strategies to get you started.
Consider what’s holding you back.
Most people who resist feeling more gratitude, or any at all, succumb to a few forces. The first is “busyness,” or at least the feeling of it. People conclude there’s simply too much going on in their lives to be able to stop and smell the roses. But practicing gratitude doesn’t entail meditating for hours on end. It can and should be done throughout the day in a matter of minutes — even seconds.
The second is comparison. We look at others’ lives with envy or longing, often forgetting that we’re only getting a window or partial picture into their experiences (the highlight reel, if you will). If we traded places, we’d have to take the whole package, not just the parts we like or want.
The third are the distortions we bring to our perspectives. Not all of us are “glass half-full” types. Some people think such an approach isn’t realistic, because of the challenges and pain life can bring. But it’s normal and human for even the most optimistic person to look at a certain situation and see a half-empty glass instead. Gratitude doesn’t mean being happy all the time — and it certainly doesn’t mean having it easy. As a dear friend once shared, life is cruel and life is beautiful. This couldn’t be more true.
Challenge your conditional relationship with gratitude.
That Harvard Business Review piece invites an interesting question: Why does it seem like more successful people are actually less grateful?
It could be that some of us instinctively associate gratitude with contentment. In other words, some might fear that too much gratitude means not having high enough expectations, or accepting what things are rather than asking what they could be.
But this is a choice for people practicing gratitude, not an inevitability. Remember that phrases like “thank you” aren’t always conversation enders. They can be followed by a semicolon instead of a period, indicating that the story is not yet done. (Semicolons are a great reminder of that in life in general.) Affirm the positive in as many situations as possible, especially when things need to change or would benefit from being done differently.
Document what makes you grateful, and return to it often.
Keep a journal, and aim for a daily relationship with it. Reflect on the who, what, when, where and why, along with what went well or made you feel good about the situation.
Consider using a traditional notebook and pen instead of keeping a digital journal, as there are at least two benefits to this approach. First, it gives you a physical repository of gratitude you can return to. Second, writing longhand slows down your brain and enables you to process and savor each feeling in a way that typing or even talking out loud might not.
The power of these steps lies in breaking down daily gratitude into bite-sized chunks. To be grateful, after all, is not about reaching a perfect state, but rather finding purpose, positivity and possibility within the now. The more we practice gratitude, the more we will show or exude it — and the more team members, clients and partners benefit from being in our orbit.
As hard or as cliche as it might seem, there is always (always) something to be grateful for.
This article originally appeared in the Memphis Business Journal.