If the only prayer you said in your whole life was,
thank you, that would suffice. – Meister Eckhart
It’s amazing how one simple, easy, positive action can change so much in a person’s life.
One of the things that has had the biggest effect on my life is the realization of the power of gratitude. Simply giving thanks.
It has affected everything. It has made me a more positive person. A more productive person. A better achiever. A better husband and father and son and brother (at least, I like to think so). A happier person. I’m not perfect, but gratitude has made me better.
Can it change your life as well? I can guarantee it. You might not get the exact same benefits as I have, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the simple act of gratitude on a regular basis will change anyone’s life, positively and immediately. How many other changes can claim to be that quick, that easy, and that profound?
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can incorporate gratitude into your life, and how it will change your life. These are just some examples, based on my experience and the experiences of others I’ve talked with, and not all will apply to your life. Pick and choose the ones you think will work for you.
1. Have a morning gratitude session. Take one minute in the morning (make it a daily ritual) to think of the people who have done something nice for you, to think of all the things in your life you’re grateful for. You won’t get to everything in one minute, but it’s enough. And it will instantly make your day better, and help you start your day off right. Can you think of a better use of one minute?
2. When you’re having a hard day, make a gratitude list. We all have those bad days sometimes. We are stressed out from work. We get yelled at by someone. We lose a loved one. We hurt a loved one. We lose a contract or do poorly on a project. One of the things that can make a bad day much better is making a list of all the things you’re thankful for. There are always things to be thankful for – loved ones, health, having a job, having a roof over your head and clothes on your back, life itself.
3. Instead of getting mad at someone, show gratitude. That’s a major switch of attitude – actually a complete flip, so this isn’t always easy to do. But I can promise you that it’s a great thing to do. If you get mad at your co-worker because of something he or she did, for example, bite your tongue and don’t react in anger. Instead, take some deep breaths, calm down, and try to think of reasons you’re grateful for that person. Has that person done anything nice for you? Has that person ever done a good job? Find something, anything, even if it’s difficult. Focus on those things that make you grateful. It will slowly change your mood. And if you get in a good enough mood, show your gratitude to that person. It will improve your mood, your relationship, and help make things better. After showing gratitude, you can ask for a favor – can he please refrain from shredding your important documents in the future? And in the context of your gratitude, such a favor isn’t such a hard thing for the co-worker to grant.
4. Instead of criticising your significant other, show gratitude. This is basically the same as the above tactic, but I wanted to point out how gratitude can transform a marriage or relationship. If you constantly criticize your spouse, your marriage will slowly deteriorate – I promise you. It’s important to be able to talk out problems, but no one likes to be criticized all the time. Instead, when you find yourself feeling the urge to criticize, stop and take a deep breath. Calm down, and think about all the reasons you’re grateful for your spouse. Then share that gratitude, as soon as possible. Your relationship will become stronger. Your spouse will learn from your example – especially if you do this all the time. Your love will grow, and all will be right in the world.
5. Instead of complaining about your kids, be grateful for them. Many parents (myself included) get frustrated with their children. They are too slow to do things, they have a bad attitude, they can’t clean up after themselves, and they pick their nose too much. Unfortunately, sometimes parents will communicate that frustration to their children too often, and the kids will begin to feel bad about themselves. Many parents have done this, and while it’s not perfect, it’s a part of parenthood. But there’s a better way: follow the method above of calming down when you’re frustrated, and thinking of reasons you’re grateful to your child. Share these reasons with your child, and then take the opportunity to teach them instead of criticizing them.
6. When you face a major challenge, be grateful for it. Many people will see something difficult as a bad thing. If something goes wrong, it’s a reason to complain, it’s a time of self-pity. That won’t get you anywhere. Instead, learn to be grateful for the challenge – it’s an opportunity to grow, to learn, to get better at something. This will transform you from a complainer into a positive person who only continues to improve. People will like you better and you’ll improve your career. Not too shabby.
7. When you suffer a tragedy, be grateful for the life you still have. I’ve recently lost an aunt, and my children recently lost a grandmother. These tragedies can be crippling if you let them overcome you. And while I’m not saying you shouldn’t grieve – of course you should – you can also take away something even greater from these tragedies: gratitude for the life you still have. Appreciation for the fleeting beauty of life itself. Love for the people who are still in your life. Take this opportunity to show appreciation to these people, and to enjoy life while you can.
8. Instead of looking at what you don’t have, look at what you do have. Have you ever looked around you and bemoaned how little you have? How the place you live isn’t your dream house, or the car you drive isn’t as nice as you’d like, or your peers have cooler gadgets or better jobs? If so, that’s an opportunity to be grateful for what you already have. It’s easy to forget that there are billions of people worse off than you – who don’t have much in the way of shelter or clothes, who don’t own a car and never will, who don’t own a gadget or even know what one is, who don’t have a job at all or only have very menial, miserable jobs in sweatshop conditions. Compare your life to these people’s lives, and be grateful for the life you have. And realize that it’s already more than enough, that happiness is not a destination – it’s already here.
Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can. – Dalai Lama
The above article is printed here with the author’s permission. Leo Babauta is the creative mind behind ZenHabits.net. Zen Habits is one of the top blogs on the Internet. It covers: achieving goals, productivity, being organized, GTD, motivation, eliminating debt, saving, getting a flat stomach, eating healthy, simplifying, living frugally, parenting, happiness, and successfully implementing good habits. Leo is married with six kids. He lives on Guam, where he’s a writer, a runner and a vegetarian.