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Five Ways to Build Your Gratitude Muscles

November 16, 2020 | by Debbie Gutfreund

This has never been more important than it is now when so much seems to be going wrong in the world and in our lives.

Like any muscle, we need to work on building our gratitude muscles every day. A runner I know – he runs 14-16 miles a day – said that people assume he gets up every day excited to run, but he actually hates running. Every morning he forces himself to overcome the resistance to stay in bed. When he's tired, he runs anyway. When people ask him what he's training for now that so many races are canceled, he replies, "I’m training for life. Because life is so often about forcing ourselves to move forward when all we want to do is give up."

This has never been more important than it is now when it seems so much easier to complain about everything that's wrong in our lives and in the world around us. Training ourselves to be grateful every day requires us to pause and focus on the goodness in our lives. As Thanksgiving approaches, here are five ways for us to build our gratitude muscles.

1. Express authentic gratitude.

It’s easy to be grateful when everything is working out just the way we want it to. It's a lot harder to be grateful when it seems like nothing is going right. So don’t try to pretend to feel grateful for your children when you are struggling with parenting challenges. Don’t try to force yourself to be grateful for abundance when you have just lost your job.

Focus on the one or two things today that you can genuinely feel grateful for in this moment. It could be something small, like a detail in your room you don’t usually pay attention to. Or a beautiful sunrise. It could be the smell of your coffee in the morning. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s authentic.

2. View gratitude as a responsibility.

Sometimes when I don’t wake up feeling grateful, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am responsible for my outlook on the world. I am responsible to thank those around me. It really is a miracle that our lives work the way they do each day. The lights turn on. Packages are delivered. There is hot water in my shower. There are groceries in the store. I can’t begin to thank the countless people who make all this possible, but I can be responsible to at least thank the person right in front of me.

3. Turn gratitude into action.

Small actions count. Everything we do matters. If we are in a difficult situation, there is always something we can do to make things worse. And there is always something, however small and seemingly insignificant, we can do to make things better.

To be more grateful, what can we stop doing that is blocking our gratitude? Maybe it’s no longer complaining about things that we can’t control or letting go of a habit that limits our capacity to appreciate our lives.

And what small action can we do to feel more grateful? Maybe it's going outside and looking up at the stars. Maybe it is writing a thank you text. Maybe it is saying a blessing over our food. Maybe it's giving a family member a hug. Every action matters.

4. Practice gratitude for those we are missing this year.

For many of us, this is the first Thanksgiving that we will be not be getting together with family members. Not only do I miss my relatives, but now that we can only see each other on FaceTime I realize how many years I took our Thanksgiving dinners for granted. I took for granted the warmth and the laughter and the connection that we only feel when we are with our families.

This year is an opportunity to feel especially grateful for our families as we feel their absence around our tables.

5. See the bigger picture.

Our lives today are so much easier compared to those who have come before us that we often lose sight of how fortunate we are to be living at this time in history. Though many of us are lonely and stressed during this pandemic, we are also relatively safe and comfortable within our own homes. We have called many events during 2020 "unprecedented", but most of the generations before us have struggled with this and far worse. They struggled with flus and plagues before we were blessed with modern medicine and sanitary hospitals. They faced war and famine and the constant battle just to survive another day.

We can have our groceries delivered to our doors, and the temperature regulated in our homes. We may be stressed about our jobs but most of us are not worried about how we will eat tomorrow. There is a lot of pessimism about the state of the world today and not nearly enough gratitude for how amazing our lives really are. Technology has given us more free time than any other generation in history. We can communicate with each other in ways that only decades ago we could have never imagined.

The question is what are we going to do with all of our freedom and abundance? It's easy to complain and stay stuck in our views of the world. It's harder to train our gratitude muscles when we don’t feel like it. But as an anonymous quote I recently saw said: The grass isn’t greener on the other side - the grass is greener where you water it. Our ability to feel grateful can grow stronger every day when we focus relentlessly on the beauty in this one, precious life.

We're always training for life. Let’s train our gratitude muscles today.

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