Make over your perspective: How to create a gratitude practice

I still remember the time someone told me "Monday is a state of mind." Uh, no, Monday is a stark reality of the standard work week and the end of all fun. Duh. But over time, I've come to see what this person was getting at -- there's no difference between Monday and Friday other than our state of mind. In other words, our experience of the world is filtered through our perceptions. One sure fire way to change the quality of our day-to-day lives is to try to change our perspective, and one tried-and-true method to do that is through a gratitude practice. Some call it counting their blessings, but the idea is the same: instead of harping on all that's going wrong, we choose to focus on what's going right. Thinking about your life in these positive terms can not only make your life seem more charmed, in can help reduce stress. Here are four easy-to-execute life-improving ideas that don't cost a dime:

Write in a journal. You've likely seen this suggestion before, and the reason is it's a good one. Keep a small book on your bedside table and depending on the time of day that's best for you -- before bed or when you first wake up -- write down a few things you feel grateful for. Sometimes, when the electric bill is late and you just had a huge fight with your sister, you might be able to only list the most obvious: a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in, your health. The magic of this exercise, though, is that over time you might find it harder to stop yourself. Your list stretches down the page as you feel thankful for the love in your life, a lunch date, or a new favorite kind of tea. As you fall asleep at night, try asking your partner what they're most grateful for.

Moving gratitude. If you're not the type to write in a journal at any time of day, here's an alternative. Pick some mindless aspect of your daily routine. This could be walking to the bus stop to get to work, or sitting in your car on the morning commute. It could be waiting for the water to boil for your morning cup of tea. Whatever moment you choose, use this time to think about gratitude. Make a list in your head of everything your grateful for or if you're alone, say it out loud.

Steer clear of comparisons.
Comparing ourselves to others -- their job, their house, their relationship -- is like poison in the gratitude well. Of course, it's a natural impulse, but it's one worth keeping in check. The grass is always greener on the other side because we don't have a clear insider view: there are always details just out of sight that might make us see things differently. That awesome job, for instance, has crazy hours, the gorgeous house has a giant mortgage, the relationship has no passion. Here's something to keep in mind: someone will always have more than you, and someone will always have less. Try to really focus on what's going on in your life, on ushering in more happiness, more love, more family time. Make the life that you have as awesome as it can be without worrying what the Joneses are up to.

Giving your thoughts spin. No matter how active and robust your gratitude practice gets to be, real life is going to get in the way. Take the dreaded post office, for instance. You're standing in that interminable line, late for a doctor's appointment, and you feel like you're going to blow your top. Now is an excellent time to take a deep breath (or five) and spin your thoughts around. Maybe you count your lucky stars that you're standing on two legs that carry you strongly through your day. Maybe you thank heavens you've got that vintage silk scarf rubbing against your cheek. Maybe you're just glad you don't have to work at the post office. And then, when you get to the clerk at the window, with any luck your gratitude converts into kindness, you smile and genuinely say thank you. And then you breeze off into a life in which you have a lot to be grateful for.

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