Gratitude Practice Not Working? Here’s What to Do
If you’re anything like me, a gratitude practice is a big part of your life. I’m fortunate (see what I did right there) to be a pretty grateful person.
(And, if you don’t consider gratitude as one of your key strengths, I suggest still reading on.)
Practicing gratitude allows us to focus on the joys in our lives. You can reflect on something small, like waking up to a clean sink free of dishes or spontaneously choosing to stop on your way home from work for ice cream, to a much larger recognition of thankfulness, like your family’s continued health or a safe home to live in.
Gratitude helps to regulate your emotional health, reduce stress, and improve sleep, among other benefits. But, what if it doesn’t? What if your gratitude practice begins to feel like a chore, or worse — something that causes stress?
Here’s what to do when your gratitude practice isn’t working for you anymore
1. Before looking for solutions, identify the problem.
Are you struggling to list three things you’re grateful for in a journal every night before bed? For the many people I talked with for this article, most of them mentioned that they failed to keep a gratitude journal, mostly because it felt like just another task they needed to complete every single day.
Newsflash: there is not one single approach that works for gratitude. So many people mention writing down what they’re thankful for is how they practice gratitude, but it certainly isn’t your only option. If you’re also one of the people struggling with appreciation on an everyday basis, it might be because you’re forcing yourself to approach gratitude in a way that doesn’t quite work for you.
So first, think about your current approach. What hasn’t been working, and most importantly, why? What problems are you noticing: Is ideation your problem? How about consistency or repetitiveness or forced creativity? Do your attempts at being thankful show up as toxic positivity instead? Is your gratitude really an act of comparison-itis? Do you feel guilt instead of gratitude when you count your blessings?
Or, maybe your current problem is situational. We’re all going through an incredibly difficult period in history where stressors are high and access to joy incredibly low. There have been many changes to how we work and play. And let’s not forget that individuals in particular socioeconomic conditions or marginalized communities are facing systematic challenges that make gratitude a lot harder to feel at this moment in time.
When you’re clear on whatever it is that’s currently causing you to feel uncomfortable, or at least unexcited about practicing gratitude, then you can begin to figure out why exactly you want this in the first place.
2. Determine why a gratitude practice is important to you.
There are options for adjusting how you approach appreciation, but none of them will be helpful if you aren’t sure why you’re so interested in building a gratitude practice in the first place.
- Is it something you do just because you think you should be doing it?
- Could it be something that wasn’t a part of your childhood, but you’d like to introduce in your own family routines?
- Are you already thankful, but want to tap more into it as a way to evolve and grow?
Now, let’s get specific. How would you like to approach gratitude in the future? Is it something you’d like to practice on a daily basis? Maybe, instead, you hope to notice it situationally? There’s no wrong answer here. Imagine what feels right to you about incorporating gratitude into your life, and use that as a jumping-off point to get started or readjust your sails.
3. Live in the moment.
One of the purest ways to express your appreciation is to simply live in the moment and notice the things around you that you’re thankful for. Now, like any gratitude practice, getting good at this can take some time, and it may look different for each person.
For example, one person might fill up with gratitude as they watch their children playing together in a peaceful and inspired manner. Another might swell up with joy when hugging a friend or high-fiving a colleague. Someone completely different might feel appreciative at the sight of artwork or when enjoying their meal.
None of these people think to themselves in advance, “I must find something about this moment to be thankful for.” Instead, they just acknowledge their emotion of appreciation when it occurs in the moment. And then, they let that feeling pass until it occurs again. They’re not reaching for a notepad to write it down or seeking out someone to tell them about it. They just feel it and allow that feeling to dissipate because they acknowledge the feeling will come again.
4. Sneak it in.
Public service announcement: You can sneak gratitude into your daily routines.
Julie Leiberman Neale reported that the Happiness Jar her family was previously using wasn’t getting filled as much as it had in the past because everyone was approaching it like a chore. She knew she needed to change things up.
Neil says, “I’ve been ‘putting dreams’ in for my 8 year old before bed…a practice where we reflect on what he was grateful for during his day that he hopes he’ll dream about. Then, I ‘magically’ put them into his head.” While this practice sounds fun for children, in theory, it could work just as well for adults.
5. Approach it visually.
Not so much of a writer? Take snapshots or videos of things you’re grateful for. Melissa Droegemueller shares, “I made a personal hashtag over on Instagram and post things I’m grateful for once a week or so using the tag so I can find them all quickly.”
A visual approach allows room for more creativity. If you’re not so much a photographer or videographer, how about drawing, painting, or making a collage of what makes you feel joy?
6. Meditate to find gratitude.
Meditation can also work as part of a gratitude practice.
Amanda Silva says, “Meditate however you feel comfortable. Staying in bed for a couple extra minutes before you start your day while closing your eyes or before bed bringing your gratitude thoughts to the surface. Outside sitting in the sun listening to the birds, in the shower with the water hitting you, smelling your coffee while you drink it. Whatever puts you in your meditative state, while focusing on positive thoughts and feeling grateful. It’s amazing how it can change your day!”
Give up — seriously!
And finally, if your gratitude practice still doesn’t bring you joy, kick it to the curb. There’s no need to force yourself to fit into a mold that doesn’t work for you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing not to actualize or every moment that makes you grateful. Instead, just live. Live in every moment. Take chances. Be spontaneous. Create routines. What could be better than that?