(OMTimes | Charles Garfield) The familiar ritual of keeping a gratitude journal is a beautiful way of staying connected to the positives of life, especially in difficult times. But as time goes on, jotting down quick, regular notes such as “grateful for friends; today’s pretty sunset; and finding that amazing chicken recipe” may not bring you the sparking, uplifting feeling of gratitude that it once did.
Overcome your gratitude fatigue
If you find yourself going through the motions in your gratitude practice and feel less able to see and appreciate the unexpected gifts that life continually offers, you may have “gratitude fatigue.” Researchers like Robert Emmons, who study gratitude and its many positive effects, say that is because our brains adapt to positive feelings and quiet our response to them as time goes on.
So, how do you reconnect with the joy that gratitude can bring? Here are three ways to reawaken yourself to the unexpected goodness that’s flowing your way:
1. Choose just two times a week to record the positive events in your life.
Researchers say switching to a routine like this, instead of making daily lists, is a highly effective way to bring your full attention back to the act of appreciation and thanks. On the days you write, look back at what’s unfolded in your life and list just four or five things for which you’re thankful. Think particularly about events or experiences that surprised you—they’re a reminder of how many forms the gifts of life can take. Record them in detail, filling your list with particulars vivid enough to let you relish them later when you reread your entries.
2. Reconnect with the three elements that lead to gratitude.
First, says researcher Emmons, gratitude takes acknowledgment (Look! Something wonderful happened. What a gift!). Second, the recognition that goodness comes from outside of you (I didn’t will it, ask for it, earn it, or make it happen. It happened independent of me.). And third, a feeling of benevolence (This event or experience that was set in motion by something outside me has a benefit for me.).
When you open yourself to seeing how often you experience these elements, you enter an almost magical-seeming realm full of gifts and appreciation waiting to be received with a thankful heart. As difficult as life maybe, sometimes, it is also strewn with benevolence that can seem almost dazzling when you slow down and give yourself the eyes to see it.
3. Write a gratitude letter.
Gratitude comes alive when it is expressed directly and warmly. Consider not just noticing the gifts and kindnesses coming your way but expressing your appreciation directly to those who have helped you – especially people who may not know they’ve left a lasting imprint. It can be a heart-opening exercise to look back and think about those actions – large or small – that have eased your way, helped you turn a corner, or perhaps kept you going when you were struggling. Perhaps a coworker pulled up a chair when you were eating lunch alone at your desk just to keep your company; an acquaintance made an introduction that led you onto a new path, or a teacher encouraged you to believe in yourself.
Start by choosing one person and writing them a one-page letter telling them what their kindness meant to you and how it affected your life for the better. A gratitude letter can have positive and lasting effects on both you and the recipient, and delivering such a letter in person can be particularly powerful, allowing you to convey your warm feelings with a smile or a laugh (or with tears and a hug). Some of the most resonant and important words you can tell anyone are: “Thank you. You made a difference. What you did for me changed my life.” And in saying them, you not only feel your gratitude anew, but you also offer it as a gift and send it into the world.
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