With Thanksgiving fast approaching, many people are beginning to think about all that the past year has brought for which they are thankful. However, if the past year brought divorce into your life, you may be struggling to feel grateful for the circumstances in which you find yourself. As the quotation above suggests, psychologists agree that practicing gratitude is integral part of promoting well-being and happiness, and can even help you to heal the wounds from the end of your marriage. Below are some tips to help you increase the gratitude in your life.
Don’t wait to feel grateful to practice an attitude of gratitude.
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a large amount of Gratitude. — A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
We all have experienced the warm fuzzy feeling of being grateful for someone or something in our lives. Yet gratitude is more than just a feeling—it is also the act of acknowledging a benefit or blessing that we have received, or will receive in our lives. You can flex your gratitude muscle regardless of how you are feeling at the moment. This is not to say that you should try to force yourself to feel grateful when you don’t. Rather, simply take some time each day to acknowledge the good things in your life, regardless of how you feel at the moment. If you do, you may be surprised to find, much like Piglet, the amount of thankfulness your heart can hold.
Start by acknowledging the little blessings of life.
When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted, or take them with gratitude. — Gilbert K. Chesterton
If deliberately practicing gratitude is new to you, you may be tempted to try to find something deep and meaningful for which to be grateful, and then feel frustrated when you fail to do so, which will only reaffirm your feelings of loss and pain. Instead, begin your practice by noticing the small things in your day-to-day life that bring you pleasure and celebrate those things. For example, you may be grateful for the joy your first cup of coffee in the morning brings, a good night’s sleep, finding a parking space close to your destination, the beauty of your garden, the fact that your favorite sports team won the game, etc. It doesn’t really matter what you find to be grateful for, or how insignificant you feel it is in the big scheme of things. What matters is identifying something (anything) that adds happiness and pleasure to your life, and acknowledging it for the gift it is. As you practice noticing the smaller blessings in your life, your ability to notice and acknowledge the more significant and meaningful gifts you receive will increase.
Practice gratitude on a daily basis.
(Some people) have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy. — Abraham H. Maslow
With all the benefits that practicing gratitude can bring, it is important to make it a part of your daily activities. If you can, set aside a few minutes at the same time each day—such as when you first wake up, or when you go to bed—to acknowledge at least five things that you are grateful for that day. If you have trouble coming up with five things, try to start by noticing the world around you, such as nature, an object you are particularly fond of, the people in your life. Then turn your attention inward, and notice the things about yourself for which you are grateful. This can be either a characteristic about yourself that you like, such as a good sense of humor, or your generosity toward others. Or it can be an acknowledgement of an accomplishment, either personally or professionally, such as completing a difficult project at work, or achieving a personal goal. As with many disciplines in life, developing a habit of practicing gratitude on a daily basis may be easier if you have someone to share the experience with. If you have children, you may want to share your new practice of gratitude with them. For example, you can make it a daily routine with your children to share with each other one thing that you are grateful for that day, by simply encouraging them to finish the following sentence, “I am thankful that…” If you don’t have children, find a friend with whom you can share this experience. And your sharing does not need to be in person, it can easily be done during a phone conversation, or through email. You may be surprised at the things that others find to be grateful for, and discover that you share their gratitude. You may also want to keep a gratitude journal, where you not only write down a list of things you are grateful for each day, but can also add details as to why you are grateful, or what your life would be like without that particular blessing. In addition to helping you develop a positive attitude and increasing your general well-being and happiness, a gratitude journal allows you to look back and reflect more deeply on all the good things in your life.
Acknowledge the things that you are grateful for as a result of your marriage ending.
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you are still struggling with feelings of pain, loss, anger, and grief over the end of your marriage, it may seem impossible to feel grateful for your divorce. Yet even in the midst of your sadness, anger, or grief, it is likely that there are some benefits that have come into your life as a result of your divorce. These benefits may range from the mundane (such as not having to listen to your former spouse’s snoring, or endure their other annoying habits) to deeper, more significant changes such as learning the mistakes you made in the relationship, and how to avoid them in the future. Maybe you are grateful that there is less conflict in your life now, or that you finally get to decorate your house the way you have always wanted it to look. Maybe you have learned new skills since the divorce, such as cooking, or managing the household finances. Or maybe you now have the time to engage in hobbies or other activities that your former spouse discouraged. It is okay to acknowledge that the transition from your married life to your new life can be difficult and challenging. Be careful not to use this time to rehash your negative feelings toward your former spouse, instead focus your thoughts and attentions on the positive aspects of your new life. Then you can begin to heal the hurts from your divorce, and appreciate and embrace all your new life has for you.
Express your gratitude to others.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. — William Arthur Ward
Along with your new habit of acknowledging the gifts and blessings in our lives, expressing our gratitude to others works to increase your sense of happiness, as well as the person receiving your thanks. Look for opportunities each day to acknowledge the kindness of others. This can be as simple as saying “thank you” to a stranger for holding the door for you, or allowing you to cut in front of them in traffic. Or it can be taking the time to send a letter, an email, or a card expressing your appreciation to a good friend who has been a confidant and a support during the difficult time of your divorce. As you take the time to acknowledge and express your appreciation to others for all the gifts, both big and small, that they bring into your life, you will find all of your relationships, including your relationship with yourself, will improve.
Call it “karma” or “good vibes” or “a mitzvah” (a blessing for doing something good for someone else) you can believe that by doing your good deeds, through being grateful, all other good things will come back to you in many other ways, ways that we will never be able to connect to what we have done or through that have dealt to the act(s) of gratitude experience.