Are You Thankful or Grateful?

Thanksgiving always provides a great opportunity to slow down and think about what we are thankful for in our lives.  If you are like most people, you probably make a quick list in your head of the things that you have in your life that makes it a little bit better around this time of year.  

My family even has a tradition of going around the table during our Thanksgiving meal and listing one or two things we are thankful for each year.  It's a great way acknowledge the things in our lives that make us smile.  In the past, my list of things I am thankful for included my family, friends, my home, my dog, the yummy food we were eating...you get the idea.  

These were all awesome things, but I think if I'm totally honest it was just a list that I made on Thanksgiving day (usually as the person in front of me was answering the question...shh don't tell my family).  I was absolutely thankful in the moment, but I'm not sure it really carried forward in my day-to-day life or had a lasting impact.

So what if this year instead of being just thankful we were grateful?  

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, there is a subte difference between being thankful and being grateful.  When we are thankful we are acknowledging the benefits something provides us.  This is how we end up with our laundry list at Thanksgiving dinners.  We list the things in our lives that simply bring us a benefit of some sort.

But when we are grateful, we aren't simply conscious of what is happening in our lives, instead we are appreciative of the benefits received.  That appreciation makes all the difference in the world.

Appreciation means that we are not only aware of the things we are thankful for, but also really intentional about acknowledging how those things are impacting our lives in a positive way.  When we are grateful for the things in our lives it allows us to really receive the gifts of friendship and love.  It allows us to slow down enough to be present in the moment and take joy in the little things in life.  Being grateful allows us to live more joyful and purposeful lives.

It's so easy for us to get caught up in the negative events in life.  It's easy to look at our day and focus on the things that didn't go quite like we planned.  This mentality makes it really hard to be thankful or grateful.  As Janice Kaplan points out in her amazing book The Gratitude Diaries, "Announce too often that you're miserable, and you begin to believe you are."  Nothing could be more true!  

But what if we could make conscious choices to make ourselves more grateful on a daily basis?  How would that change our experience of this world?

The beauty of gratitude is it allows us to change our perspective and attitude.  When we consciously choose contentment and gratitude we open ourselves up to lives that our so much more enriching and rewarding.  Science has proven over and over again that people who are more grateful are generally happier, less stressed and less likely to suffer from depression.  I don't know about you, but those all sound like really good things!

Here are four simple steps you can take to cultivate an attitude of gratitude:

1. Make a gratitude list each day - By writing down a few things each day we are grateful for we can begin to change our perspective about our lives.  Instead of scanning our environment for things that aren't going quite like we hoped, we begin to scan our world for the things that bring us joy and contentment.  

It doesn't matter when you make this list or how you make it.  You can make this list in the morning to start you off on the right foot or in the evening to improve your sense of well-being before you go to bed each night.  You can record your thoughts in your phone as things happen during the day or in a beautiful journal that you can review and reflect on from time to time.  There's not right way to make the list, but the process of making it will improve your sense of gratefulness.

2. Reframe your experiences - There are some times where simply changing our mindset can allow us to be more grateful for our every day experiences.  There is an amazing quote in Hamlet that states: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."  This such an obvious truth that it's easy to forget.  Our perception of our situation is what makes it good or bad.  

If we look for the positive in every experience we have we change our experience and by changing our mindset.  It's so important to remember that we can't always change the events in our life, but we can change our response.  One of my coaches says it like this, E+R=O.  In this formula events plus our responses equals the outcome. 

We can't always control the things or events we experience, but we ALWAYS have control over our response, which creates the outcome we experience.  Ask yourself how you can reframe the events in your life to create better outcomes for you and your family.

3. Choose experiences rather than things - If you are looking for a sure fire way to cultivate more gratitude try to focus on having experiences rather than acquiring things.  When we stop and look at our lives for the things that added value, it is likely that our time with family,  a great vacation or a fun concert come out way ahead of the new iPhone or outfit we bought.  

The things we buy lose their novelty shortly after we buy them, which means even though we might get joy from the initial purchase and enjoy the idea of owning them, the long-term emotional benefit is limited.  In contrast, most of our experiences get better over time.  

Think about the great memories you have from the vacation you took and think about the joy you can still experience by recalling the time with family or friends.  Experiences naturally make us more grateful for our lives.  So what experiences can you pursue on an annual, monthly or weekly basis to boost your gratitude and happiness?   

4. Don't save gratitude for Thanksgiving!  - I don't know about you, but I don't want to wait for Thanksgiving each year to experience the positive benefits of gratitude.  When we appreciate what we have (being Grateful!), we are less likely to be unhappy.  The more you focus on the things you are grateful for, the more content you become.

Let's make 2018 a year of Gratitude!  

I'd love to hear some ideas of how you practice gratitude in your life, share in the comments below.