How to Take Charge of Your Negative Thoughts: 40 Days of Gratitude
It is so easy to focus on problems, disasters, and fears. Our minds often automatically go to our imperfections, thoughts of loss and disappointments without our conscious awareness.These kinds of thoughts and emotions are often the subject of individual therapy sessions. Thoughts of others suffering from trauma can bring us down and make us feel anxious or depressed.
This is a difficult time in California with the fires and the recent shooting in Thousand Oaks. We are being bombarded with negative information and heartbreaking news. Social media is constantly keeping us abreast of all the awful things that are happening and it seeps into our individual conversations. It is in times like this that we need to make an extra effort to look for signs of good and celebrate the positive things in our lives. Practicing intentional gratitude can help create balance.
We often talk about gratitude in relationship therapy sessions. Focusing on what we are grateful for in our partner can make positive changes in the relationship. If we each set aside a few minutes in our day to explore gratitude and then infuse this gratitude into our daily routines and conversations we can spread the foundational feeling of hope. In the midst of turmoil, what is already going well? What gets you through the day? How are you able to make the shift from negative thoughts and focus on good things despite being surrounded by difficult news? These are big questions. Gratitude can start with small questions.
The practice of gratitude is often easier to start small. It just takes one small thing to get going. There are always little things in life we can be thankful for; a cup of tea, a blanket, a warm hug, a bed, a table or a chair. Begin with just one thing and repeat to yourself several times. For example, “I am grateful for this cup of tea.” Then move on to what else you notice about the tea. How does it feel in your hands? What nice sensations come from taking a sip? How does the tea smell? What else do you enjoy about the tea?
Keep your mind open to noticing. Widen your focus just a bit to include your immediate surroundings. What do you see that you like? What about each thing gives it value and makes it special or meaningful to you? Something as unexpected as a television can lead us to gratefulness. The thought process might go like this: It provides entertainment. It helps me to relax. I share time together with people I care about while we enjoy a show.
At first, practicing gratitude takes effort. The effort can also change depending on what is going on in your life. Set aside a time every day or attach your practice to an activity you already do every day like driving to work, preparing or eating food, cleaning, falling asleep, etc. The more you practice the less effort being grateful will require. You will more easily identify the things in your life that are working for you or that are helping to shore you up. As time passes, you will develop a deeper appreciation for everyone and everything around you.
Give yourself 40 days to learn to notice what you are grateful for in your life and see how it impacts your thoughts. May you greet the New Year with renewed hope. There is no right or wrong way to be grateful. There are things all around you are grateful for, you just have to discover them. Get creative and get going. Here are 40 things to think about to lead you in the direction of noticing your gratitude:
1. Think of an elder in your life who made a positive impact on you.
2. What is a simple thing you enjoy doing?
3. Where is a special place you have been?
4. What are you most drawn to in nature?
5. Think of one of your accomplishments.
6. What qualities do you have that others admire?
7. What are your healthiest habits?
8. Think about a happy memory.
9. What do you have now that you didn’t have last year?
10. Think of the last time you indulged yourself in self-care.
11.What have your created lately?
12. How do you enjoy nature?
13. What is your favorite photo?
14. How do you help others?
15. What have you learned from a mistake?
16. How has someone supported you?
17. What music inspires you?
18. Who has mentored you or provided you with a good example?
19. Think about a friend you are grateful to have.
20. What do others say you do best?
21. What is your favorite or most comfortable outfit?
22. What personality traits do you have that help you get through difficult times?
23. What did you get done today?
24. What skills have you learned?
25. What makes you feel safe?
26. Which belonging are you most grateful for?
27. What was the most valuable lesson you have learned?
28. What happened this week that touched you?
29. Who in your life are you grateful for?
30. What is your favorite animal?
31. What do you appreciate about your favorite place to spend time?
32. What tradition to you most enjoy?
33. What are you most proud of?
34. What little things make your life easier?
35. What is your biggest life lesson?
37. What do others see in you that have difficulty seeing in yourself?
38. How do you show others you care?
39. What are qualities you admire in others?
40. What new outlook do you bring to the New Year?
There is no order to this list. There are no rules for practicing gratitude. The purpose of this list is to help you get your creative juices flowing. Use some suggestions or all of them. Use it in any order you like, or not at all.