In recent years, the use of the word ‘gratitude’ has become so commonplace that it is essentially a buzzword. It seems like every form of self-help media mentions “practicing gratitude.” While the concept and exercise of living in gratitude can be a positive and transformative thing, sometimes it is unclear what this really means. On the surface, being grateful consists of acknowledging the various aspects of existence for which you feel thankful.

While this seems straightforward, reviewing a gratitude list doesn’t always work for everyone. Luckily, there are
countless customizable ways to express thankfulness for our lives.

Ultimately, practicing gratitude should leave you with an overall sense of joy and serenity. Therefore, modifying your practice is significant. For some, mentally listing or writing all the people and elements of gratitude in their life works perfectly; however, this can feel daunting to others. When customizing your gratitude routine, ask yourself three questions:

What do you love to do in your free time?

What genuinely brings you peace and joy?

How do you have fun?

It’s okay if you feel unsure of some or all the answers. Taking a moment to reflect upon these questions can help you establish joy-bringing moments, or help you realize that you’d like to discover/create more. Similarly, determining your “love language” provides the opportunity to dive deeper into joy and gratitude.

The 5 Love Languages is a book by Gary Chapman. This book, as well the quiz, guides people to understanding the way they feel loved. It offers insight into how we can help the people in our lives feel loved, too. The languages include physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gift giving.

A person can have one predominant preference or a combination. Holly’s love language is Words of Affirmation. Because of this, Holly recites morning and nightly affirmations to herself. “As much as I love to hear nice words from others, my self-talk isn’t always positive. I try to remember to treat myself with kindness.” Ben’s love language is gift-giving, so he remembers to buy himself gifts when he sees fit.

Because gratitude is rooted in love, practicing self-love is key. Loving ourselves is a vital step to loving others. A popular meditation guides each person to imagine themselves as a cup. There are aspects to life that fill and drain our cups, but we can’t maintain peaceful and positive relationships when our individual cup is empty. According to Psychology Today, “To love yourself is not an act of selfishness, it is an act of kindness toward others because when you love yourself, others don’t have to deal with your unresolved problems.” Utilizing your personal love language to fill your cup not only has the possibility to transform your life but the lives of others as well.

Self-expression is another gratitude-boosting activity. “By expressing ourselves thoughtfully, we can better communicate, collaborate, and build a community with others. At times of crisis, people come together to express themselves individually, and as a group, through the arts” (Saint Josephs UK). Self-expression is vital for gratitude, because when we actively create the space and acceptance to live authentically, true joy appears. Self-expression encompasses many areas, like clothing, hobbies, speech, etc.

Sometimes, it’s scary to choose authenticity. To show up as you are requires different levels of vulnerability. However, when we show up as authentically as possible, we confirm that we deserve to be accepted, loved, and appreciated for who we are, just as others deserve the same.

Finally, honesty is the best policy. It’s okay to NOT feel grateful. Life is complex and can be very difficult. “At the end of the day, even if it’s the worst day, I always know I’m thankful for my dog,” says Katelyn, a therapist. Forcing feelings of gratitude and joy is not the answer. While choosing genuine forms of expression and self-love may not seem like a gratitude practice, they are. When we take care of ourselves with patience and grace, an atmosphere of thanksgiving manifests. Then, we can take this love and gratitude and apply it to the people, places, memories, pets and moments of life.

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