To put it lightly, 2020 has been a rollercoaster. From the widespread uncertainty, grief and anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic to a turbulent political climate and continued isolation from friends and family, it’s okay if you’re struggling to pinpoint a silver lining. Heightened stress levels — about our health, our safety, our loved ones — make us feel uneasy and in a negative thinking cycle.
As an author and mindful teacher Alaine Portner explains, practicing gratitude feels like an uphill battle when we feel depleted emotionally and physically. However, it’s not an impossible feat — it just takes training. “Gratitude is the most powerful correlation of happiness,” Porter continues. “Currently and consciously, many of us are seeking ways to feel happier than we’ve been lately. The good news is that it’s impossible to feel stress and gratitude at the same time, in the same moment. Life is about choices, so choose gratitude practices that support your mental and physical health.”
Here, mindfulness experts shed their best advice for finding and honoring gratitude, even in a challenging year:
Create visual reminders
Maybe this year, you lost a job you loved due to budget cuts. Or, you and your partner have fought more than usual since you’re stuck together 24/7. And, with all of your travel plans busted, you may feel annoyed you’re not making progress on your country-visiting bucket list. Whatever makes you feel less than stellar about yourself or your current lifestyle, you are proud of things and there are things you love — even if they aren’t at the forefront of your mind. To remind yourself of successes and happy times, psychotherapist and author, Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. suggests creating visual reminders in your home. “Display photos of fun events and sports or hobby trophies. It’s a constant reminder that you appreciate yourself, and when you see them daily, you’ll feel the appreciation,” she explains.
Between dialing-in to your next Zoom call and figuring out your latest grocery delivery order, you may feel pushed to your limit all the time during the lockdown. With little escape from the confines of your home, you may grow weary of the same four walls around you, as well as your partner, roommates, or even your pet. According to a certified holistic wellness coach, Kama Hagar, a way to go deep into yourself and find gratitude is through meditation. As she explains, setting aside time to be quiet and still, focusing your breathing and clearing your mind will improve your level of happiness and help you release tension. You don’t have to be a monk to reap the benefits of meditation either, since plenty of meditation teachers have already done the heavy lifting for us and created sessions ranging from five minutes to an hour. Hagar recommends starting with a free meditation app, like Insight Timer, to get started.
Make a list
Though gratitude journals have been trendy for a while now, Hagar says they actually, well, work. Spending time with good ‘ole fashioned pen and paper allows your mind to decompress and find gratitude that’s hidden behind negative emotions. Hagar suggests finding a calm spot in your house, having some tea and getting cozy, as you start to list out all of the people and aspects in your life that you’re grateful to have. Don’t edit or worry about grammar; instead, let it flow. “It can be a rambling story, a bulleted list, or a combo of the two,” she continues. “Just get your head in the space of thankfulness, and you’ll realize how much there truly is to appreciate in your life. Keep this list around when you spiral into other emotions to refer back to. Bonus if you make a list every day.”
Write letters to loved ones
If you enjoyed journaling about your personal gratitude, why not spread the love to those who mean the most in your life? Portner says an effective way to not only feel more thankfulness but to encourage others to find their own small joys is to send a handwritten card. This budget-friendly exercise will brighten the spirits of your friends and family when they open their mailbox to find a sweet note from you. And if you are comfortable, suggest having a catch-up phone call to help you feel more connected, even from afar.
Tap into your senses
When was the last time you paused to take in everything around you? The sound of the city outside your window, the soft music playing in the background, the sun sneaking through the window, and the smell of your partner baking fresh bread wafting from the kitchen. Tapping into your sense is the true definition of being present, according to Hagar. And by focusing on one moment in time, she says you soothe your anxiety and find peace. “Can you find gratitude for what you’re experiencing, right now?” she continues. “Whether it’s big, small, or something you normally take for granted, begin to acknowledge all the beauty in this connection to the world around you. You’re bound to find at least one thing you’re lucky to have. The rest, even for just a few moments, will fade.”
Monitor your self-talk
Though many pay attention to the words they select to speak to others in their lives, few prioritize the language they choose to speak to themselves. As Tessina explains, if your self-talk is naturally negative, you may be creating a self-fulling identity. By participating in defeating emotions and talking down to yourself, you may not be grateful for anything at all, since you’ll feel more depressed than excited for day-to-day life. “If these messages are negative, changing them can indeed lift your spirits and your optimism,” she shares.
So, the next time when you’re mentally complaining or fretting, turn the thought around. Instead of “Ugh, this year just sucks,” try “This year is challenging me, and I am growing as a person because of it. It won’t last forever.”
According to Hagar, this simple transformation can improve your physical, psychological, and social health, resulting in better sleep and increased empathy. “Practicing gratitude is the ultimate form of mental strength-training: focusing on the good over the lack,” she shares. “Eventually, it becomes your default, and when it does, you become a happier, healthier, stronger, more positive version of yourself. Not only does that serve you and your sanity, but it’s also magnetic.”
Go for a gratitude walk
Breathing in the fresh air does wonders for your spirits, so even if it’s chilly outside, bundle up and go for a gratitude walk. As Portner explains, moving your body (and mind!) outside into more natural surroundings allows you to look around and see the abundance of life that’s surrounding you. As you stroll, take note of pretty scenes, sweet interactions between strangers or animals, and reflect on the beauty of every angle. If you need to, snap some photos to have those visual reminders when you return home. As she adds, through these powerful exercises, you can create better visions for tomorrow by being grateful today.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.