Once a year (in the US and Canada) we settle down for a day and focus on being thankful. We cook a big meal, gather people around us, and spend time reflecting on what we have been given.
And yet I don’t know many people who relate to Thanksgiving with real gratitude. We crave a certain dish, we stress about being with family, we think about what we want to buy for Christmas.
Gratitude is funny like that. It’s like flossing for your soul, you always feel like you should be doing more of it, and even when you do it, you need a strict regime to keep going.
It doesn’t seem like being grateful comes naturally to us at all. The Buddha chalked it up to innate human desire. Some of us blame consumerism or capitalism. You might even blame evolution, after all, if we hadn’t wanted more, we may never have gotten down out of the trees and developed big brains designed to help us figure out how to get more of what we want.
But no matter the case, while gratitude is valuable it can be hard to create.
So here are some unusual gratitude practices you might consider:
1. Stop using something you rely on
For one week just stop using something you normally use all the time. You could eat with your left hand instead of your right. Or don’t wear your apple watch. Or go without a car. Or even give up sex or chocolate.
Often we only feel grateful for things we lose, so losing something may help you appreciate that it’s there. (Or you may discover you never really needed it at all)
2. Really thank someone, like from your heart
When you’re checking out at the grocery store, may eye contact with the clerk and thank them. Say something like: “Thanks so much for helping me get checked out today. I know it’s a thankless job sometimes, but you were really kind today and I appreciate it.”
Part of why gratitude doesn’t work is that we treat it like flossing. If we treat it as a true expression it has a better impact.
3. Set aside money to spend on other people
Studies have shown that we experience more joy when we spend money on other people. So instead of waiting until the holidays or birthdays try giving people gifts out of the blue. Or even buy coffee for someone. Or make small bags with socks and apple sauce for people in need.
Basically, set aside money every month to give to people in order to create joy for you and for them. Not only will this make you grateful for yourself, it will help other people feel grateful too.
4. Practice being grateful for things you don’t like
Instead of just going around the table saying good things you are grateful for, try going around the table and sharing about things that are challenging but still have given you something good.
So often we only see easy things as blessings even though it’s often the challenges in life that change us most of all.
5. Take on a blessing challenge
Before almost every meal I say a blessing with my partner. I’ve done this since I was a little kid and even though we often say the same one, it’s very special when we speak from our hearts.
For one week challenge yourself to say an actual blessing over your food. Thank the people that picked and packed your veggies, reflect on how lucky it is to be alive, be grateful for the job you have or the people who love you. By taking time to really reflect rather than having gratitude be a repetitious act can shift everything.
No matter how you practice gratitude this week, remember that gratitude isn’t some habit you should be doing. It’s an inner stance that can change the way you see everything. It may not come easy, but if you take the time to renew it, you might begin to relate to the blessings in your life from an entirely new place.