Knowing what gratitude is not is just as important as knowing what it is. If we can distinguish between the two, then we can learn ways to practice it, and implement it into our lives more easily. We can also use it as a way to make our world better, rather than making things harder on ourselves.
1) Living in gratitude is not an excuse to be mean to people, or look down on them because they have a different point of view, or a different lifestyle than yours.
Sometimes, when we’re doing our best to exist from a place of gratitude in our lives, we can look at those who aren’t so thankful about things, or who are downright negative all the time, and judge them pretty harshly. But I’ve found that if we’re being gracious in one breath and then being judgmental in the next, it’s more about what is going on inside of us than it is about what the other person is doing. It’s a really good sign that we still have some inner work to do.
Everyone is on their own journey, just like we are. The best way to keep ourselves calm, happy, and living from a place of higher energy, is to respect their journey, support it where we can, and help them whenever possible. We can lead by example, rather than telling people how they should live their lives.
“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” – Paulo Coelho
2) Being thankful for what you have doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t speak up for yourself, or be your true authentic self.
Much like my issue with the phrase, “Bloom where you’re planted”, being grateful for what you have doesn’t mean that you can’t want better. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t like something, or aren’t happy somewhere, that you can’t voice that. Being grateful for what you have, and having a positive attitude, doesn’t mean ignoring the issues and pretending like they aren’t there. It means being thankful that you have the ability to work through those issues, to work around them, or to change them entirely. It means being thankful for the people in your life who love and appreciate you for who you are and not for who they want you to be.
3) Gratitude is not the same as happiness.
We often think that if we’re being gracious then we’re happy, and if we aren’t happy then we can’t be thankful either. But, these two things are not the same.
Happiness can come and go based on our circumstances. There are days when things are going really well, and we are extremely happy. Then there are other days when everything seems to be going wrong, or is completely frustrating, and we’re not so happy.
Gratitude on the other hand is something that we can cultivate and maintain, even on those days when we’re not happy.
We can not be happy and still be thankful. Even when we’re having a bad day, and things are not working out right, we can be grateful for those experiences, because we know they will somehow benefit us in the long run. We’re grateful for the experiences, but not always happy about living through them.
4) Gratitude is not always easy to maintain.
Let’s be honest, we all have days when we are feeling less than thankful about what’s going on in our lives. (When we’re going through those trials and lessons for instance.)
All of us get into a funk from time to time and nothing seems right in life. Our funk may look different than someone else’s, but we all go through it sometimes. Even the most gracious, positive people have days when they feel off. What helps them get back to a state of gratitude more quickly than most is their daily practice of being grateful for the small things.
Building an attitude of gratitude in our lives is like building up our muscle memory. It’s like an athlete who trains for marathons, or to play a sport. If we practice it enough, it becomes second nature. If we are consistently looking around us, and finding things to be grateful for, then we’re building that “muscle”.
Remember too, that the things we’re grateful for don’t always have to be big things; like vacations, or a raise. If we can look around us at any given moment and find a few things that we’re grateful for in that moment, we’re much better off than only focusing our attention on those big things. This because, those big things tend to be farther and fewer between, which means we’re only practicing gratitude every now and then. Instead, if we can find small, “common” things each day to be thankful for, then we’re practicing every single day and building that muscle more quickly.
5) Gratitude isn’t something that some people have and some people don’t.
It isn’t something that you’re either born with or you’re not. There are those that being gracious comes to more easily, but anyone can develop an attitude of gratitude. Just like playing the violin, or writing, or drawing, some people are just naturally really good. That doesn’t mean that others can’t ever do those things, it just means that they may have to work a little harder, and practice a little more.
Doing small things like keeping a gratitude journal, or thanking the people around you for doing things, or focusing more on what you have, rather than what you don’t, can help anyone to grow their gratitude muscles.
6) It isn’t something that we should only practice once or twice a year.
My husband said this morning, “I can’t wait to read all about how thankful people are today, and then hear about how they cussed each other out at the stores tomorrow”. He was semi making a joke, but sadly, it’s often true. We practice gratitude and talk about all of the things that we’re thankful for on Thanksgiving, and the days leading up to it, but then as soon as it’s over, we go right back to focusing on all of the things we don’t have. If Thanksgiving and Christmas bring out the best in people, Black Friday and the days leading up to Christmas often bring out the worst.
I’m not saying don’t shop, don’t enjoy the sales, but while we’re doing so, let’s try to pay more attention to how we’re acting, and how we’re talking to and treating others.
But again, this goes for every day of the year.
7) Gratitude is not something that we should keep to ourselves.
Being thankful doesn’t just mean appreciating what you have, or who you have in your life. Make it a point to thank people when they do something for you. I’m not talking about just those times when someone gives you a gift, or makes a grand gesture. When the waiter brings you your drink, your food, or an extra napkin, say thank you. When someone helps you at a store, say thank you. Yes, this is their job, but who doesn’t love actually hearing someone show their appreciation for what they are doing? Tell someone at work thank you for doing such a great job. Let you spouse know that you appreciate the fact that they took out the trash, filled the car up with gas, or loaded the dishwasher. Even if it’s something that they are “supposed” to do, I guarantee you that they will be more likely to do it again if they feel that their efforts are appreciated.
When we try our best to live in an attitude of gratitude every day, those days become more fulfilling and joyful.
That’s not to say that every day will be perfect, and you’ll never have any problems in life; that’s unrealistic. What practicing gratitude does though, is it reminds us that those less than great days won’t last forever. It reminds us that we can live through some rough times and still have hope that better times are always coming.