When the month of November hits, all things seem to turn to thankfulness and gratitude. We often use these words— thankful and grateful—interchangeably, but did you realize they are actually different? Thankful tends to be the response we give when we receive something; actions around thankfulness only last a moment. Gratefulness, on the other hand, is the emotional response we have when we reflect on the things that have been given to or happened to us—both positive and negative. While many of us focus on being thankful this time of year, how often are we actually taking the time to be present in our thoughts and reflect with gratitude on how we got here? The thing is, gratitude isn’t something tangible—we can’t just write a list or say thank you and instantly we’re grateful. Gratitude is only found in its practice. It’s showing up regularly and making the time to reflect. Yes, it includes those things you’re thankful for, but it’s also going deep into the uncomfortable, hard, painful moments that you endured to get here.
With the season of thankfulness upon us, I want to share with you a little about what I’ve learned about gratitude this year and how I’ve incorporated it into my life. A key part, and the biggest struggle, in my health journey has always been emotional health. I’m a constant work in progress—always ebbing and flowing from progress to regression. Emotional work is challenging for me because there is not a definitive ‘do this and you will get that’ outcome. I like directions and direct results so I tend to avoid emotional work because it’s messy. However, you eventually get to a point in your health journey when you have to address it and do that hard, messy work.
I’ve tried to practice what I thought was gratitude over the years, making lists of what I’m thankful for, being thankful for my blessings, but always finding the “but” and easily slipping back into a bitter or angry emotional state when life got a little hard. I was beginning to think all those mental health experts (one who happens to be my husband) were a bunch of liars. Lists upon lists and I could not seem to find that mysterious peace that so many claim comes with true gratitude. I always thought I was being grateful, but could never seem to remain in that state of gratitude I’d read so much about. Truth be told, my motivation to find gratitude was more for the physical health benefits and so I wanted it conquered and done, except in my haste to check it off my list, I lost the point. It was this article that really helped me understand I had been going about it all wrong. I realized that while I was so busy focusing on the tangible, I had been missing the key point—the actual, intentional practice of gratitude.
When life seemed to get flipped upside down this year, I certainly had times when I wasn’t feeling grateful, but by making intentional time to reflect on my life and circumstances daily I have found more gratitude this year than ever before. The beauty of all I had to be grateful for has surrounded me for the past seven months—it was always there, I had just always been too busy to see it. While many things this year have been more stressful, I’ve made more intentional time to start and end my day in gratitude, to breathe and to find the good in all situations throughout my day. I still make lists, say thank you, and count my blessings, but after continued intentional practice I have started to find myself in that mysterious state of gratitude even on the hard days.
Tips to Practice Gratitude
I wish I could give you a definitive checklist or directions on how to find a state of gratitude in your life, but this is very personal, messy work. The most challenging part is making the time to stop and recognize the things you can be thankful for even in tough situations. The more you practice it, the more you will default to gratitude. Here's a few changes that have helped me along the way.
Before you get up in the morning, take a minute in bed to take a few deep breaths while thinking of something you’re grateful for (mine is usually sunshine …on gloomy days it’s for my warm bed).
Find the good in everyday tasks. Instead of being annoyed that you have to clean the bathroom or cook dinner, redirect your thinking and give thanks for the time to do them, for things to clean, for food to eat, for grandma’s mixing bowl, etc.
Turn off the TV, radio, podcasts, etc. and enjoy the silence. Distractions are everywhere and offer an easy way to numb our emotions—start being more intentional about your phone or TV use. If you’re going through something difficult, it’s easier to distract yourself by scrolling your phone or binge watching Netflix, but taking the time to acknowledge and think about what’s going on makes it easier to find the good in it.
Drop the guilt. If you want to binge watch Netflix, then do it and be grateful for it! When you’re making intentional decisions, you can drop the guilt. It’s easier to be grateful for a life that you’re making. You don’t have to be perfect or live by anyone’s rules but your own.
Help someone else. Make a meal, help a neighbor, or go out of your way to do something extra for your partner or a friend. In these moments we get out of our own heads and find empathy and gratitude for people in our lives.
Before we busy ourselves with decorating, shopping, turkey dinners, and all the festivities of the coming season; let’s take a breath, be still, and choose to make gratitude a practice in our lives, this month and in the year ahead.
A Gratitude Practice with Essential Oils
Scents affect the brain and are shown to trigger an emotional response on both a psychological and physiological level. Science has also shown that essential oils can alter brain waves, reduce feelings of stress, decrease cortisol levels, and trigger positive emotional responses. Essential oils have played a huge role in helping me with my emotional health, so naturally I’ve reached for Gratitude essential oil blend a lot this year. I use the oil neat on the crown of my head in the morning and keep a roller of it diluted by my bedside to use during an evening reflection.
This exclusive Young Living blend was designed to bring relief to the body while helping to foster a grateful attitude.
10-25 drops Gratitude essential oil bend
Carrier oil of choice
Add essential oils to roller bottle and top with carrier oil.
To use, apply behind the ears, over the heart, on the wrists, on the back of the neck, or at the base of the spine. Use with the Gratitude Protocol.
In the Morning
Add 1-2 drops of Gratitude essential oil to the crown of your head. State at least one thing you are thankful for and one challenge/hardship that you’re thankful for, or use this morning affirmation.
I am grateful for another day, for all that will be, and for the chance to learn today.
In the Evening
Before bed apply a roller of Gratitude essential oil blend to your wrists and breathe in deeply while you state or write three things, people, or experiences you are thankful for today. Or use this Evening Affirmation.
I am thankful for this day, for all that I experienced, and for the wisdom I gained.
Take it further with this meditation from my husband and certified mindfulness and meditation teacher, Christopher O’Reilly.
“Create space in your life to be still, to observe what is happening in your body, and in your environment. Reflect on how you came to this place. Recognize and accept with gratitude that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in your life. Every experience is a teacher. Practicing gratitude is being thankful for everything because life is one opportunity after another. An opportunity to grow, to love, to learn, and to feel. We learn a lot more from challenging feelings than we do enjoyable ones if we spend time with them being curious. We need to be grateful for it all. Sunny and enjoyable days don’t create character—it’s often hard to see the meaning in the cloudy days, or when you’re in the storm. Practicing gratitude is creating space to find the meaning in both and not wishing away even the darkest days.”
There are lessons in all things. Use this Gratitude practice, or create your own, to work on strengthening your gratitude for more vibrant health, positivity, and grace in your life. We all have the ability to cultivate gratitude in our lives, and the more we practice it, the more it will grow.
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