The Gratitude Practice
Dear Badass Black Girl,
It pays to practice gratitude. When you practice being thankful for what you have and those who helped you along the way, you become more upbeat, more confident, more efficient, less stressed, less jealous of other people, and more satisfied with your life.
Here are ten exercises to bring gratitude into your life:
Three good things: This is one of the easiest and best-known exercises to practice gratitude. Every night before going to bed, take a few minutes to think back to the day that has just passed. Focus on positive events, and find three things you can be thankful for. This exercise will be particularly useful after a tough day because it will help you remember the positive parts of your day even if the whole day felt like a nightmare or you think you made one mistake after another. Maybe, even though you woke up a half-hour late and had to skip breakfast, you still made it to the bus stop in time to catch your ride to school. Maybe you sprained your ankle in gym class, but you were helped to the nurse’s office by classmates who showed you how much they care about you. There’s usually something positive to be found in any situation. It might take some digging to find it, but you can do it!
You will find you can still find positives: a pleasant discussion with a classmate, a free spot in a crowded parking lot, your baby sister who ran into arms when she returned from kindergarten, a delicious meal, a postcard from the other side of the world… There are always reasons to feel happy.
Remember to thank life for these little gifts, these little pleasures. You can also do this exercise when you wake up or at breakfast time, but what a happy way to fall asleep, with your heart filled with joy and gratitude…
The gratitude journal or gratitude book: Take a notebook and a pen and, as for the first exercise, think back over your day. This time, note three to five things you can give thanks for once a day, once or more a week. Find a comfortable pace so this is an ongoing commitment. Completing your gratitude journal should be a pleasure, not a chore. Put it on your nightstand, and fill it when you feel like it.
If you prefer new technologies, another variation of the gratitude journal is to take pictures of things you feel grateful for. You can try the experience over a week by taking a picture a day, for example. You can also test apps like Gratitude Journal 365 or HappyFeed— Gratitude Journal. Another possibility: make these images into a beautiful collage you can hang on your wall to keep the things you are thankful for on your mind.
The letter of gratitude: This is a powerful exercise in giving thanks and showing appreciation to others. Write a letter to someone who matters tremendously to you—someone who has inspired you or currently inspires you to be as badass as you are, but you have not yet taken the time or the trouble to thank. It can be a teacher, a mentor, a parent, a grandparent, a friend, a coworker, or anyone else. Someone who has helped you, who inspires you, who has shown kindness or generosity, or someone you can rely on, that you are genuinely grateful to have in your life. In short, someone to whom you genuinely appreciate and gratitude.
You don’t need to write a novel (unless you want to one day), but be specific about what that person has done for you and how they made your life better. If they’ve been a role model, point out the qualities you appreciate in them. Explain to them what fills you with gratitude. You can choose a handwritten version that’s more personal, and you can mail the letter, hand-deliver it, or email it. However you go about doing it, it’s important to let people who lift you up know that you appreciate the difference they’ve made in your life.
The gratitude visit: If you aren’t shy about showing your feelings, one step above the letter of gratitude is the visit of gratitude. Instead of sending your letter, you make an appointment with the rock stars in your life and read it in person. Tell them you want to meet to discuss something, but don’t mention the letter of gratitude. Stay vague. Keep this a surprise.
When you are in front of the person, tell them that you want to read a letter describing how thankful you are to them. Ask them not to interrupt you until you have finished reading your letter. Take your time. As you read, try to pay attention to the reactions of the recipient, but also pay attention to yours.
At the end of the reading, discuss your feelings—this exercise often brings up strong emotions. If you live far away from this person, new technologies can make it easier. You can have a video chat over Skype, Google Hangouts or social networks.
The jar of gratitude: To create your jar of gratitude, you will need paper, a pen, a jar, and whatever decorations you think will reflect your personality: stickers, paint, glitter, ribbons, glue, etc. Then, decorate it. Make this a jar that fills your heart with joy when you look at it. Once your jar is ready, place it in a room where you are sure to see it every day. Ideally, choose a place where you spend the end of the day: if you put it in the bathroom, you will see it when you brush your teeth or, if you place it on your bedside table, you can look at it before going to bed.
Then, as you did in the exercise above, practice thinking about three events of your day for which you feel grateful. It can be small pleasures like tasting your favorite pastry, receiving a call from your best friend, or enjoying a beautiful sunset… Every day, note these moments of happiness on slips of paper and place them in your jar of gratitude. As your jar fills up, you will realize that you have plenty of reasons to be grateful. If you ever feel a little down, open your jar and pull out some memories to remind yourself it ain’t all that bad.
Some people prefer to put a coin in their jar of gratitude whenever they feel grateful. Then, once filled, you can donate it to a cause you want to help out.
The gratitude box: As with the jar of gratitude, get a box and anything you think is necessary to make it pretty. This time, the exercise involves writing messages of gratitude to the person of your choice. If you’re out of inspiration for ways people have helped you out, you can thank people for some of the special qualities that make them unique, write down things you like about this person, what they taught you, how they inspire you, and just say thanks for being part of your life.
Open your heart, and let your feelings speak! Fill your box of gratitude with all your little words, and offer it up on a special occasion. I think it’s a wonderful gift idea for Valentine’s Day, a loved one’s birthday, a teacher, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or even Christmas.
The gratitude walk: This exercise of gratitude couldn’t be simpler. It combines the benefits of physical activity, gratitude, and mindfulness meditation. Go for a walk somewhere where you are close to nature if possible. Walk slowly, and focus on the present moment. Pay attention to all the wonders that surround you, everything that can give you pleasure, and what you are grateful for in this moment. It may be, for example, the song of birds, the beauty of butterflies, the color of trees, the smell of flowers, the wind in your hair, the heat of the sun on your skin… Let yourself be overwhelmed by this deep sense of well-being and gratitude. Allow yourself at least twenty to thirty minutes of walking. This is the time your body needs to secrete feel-good endorphins. The practice of regular physical activity has a positive impact on your morale, your level of stress and the quality of your sleep. In addition to allowing you to express your gratitude, this exercise is perfect for clearing your head of your worries and anxieties.
Gratitude Meditation: Here’s another exercise that combines meditation and gratitude, two activities that help elevate your level of happiness. To practice a gratitude meditation, sit comfortably in a place where you know you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Let all your cares out as you exhale stress and drama, and breathe in peace. Breathe deeply until you reach a state of calm. Pay attention to things around you that you can hear or feel: The breeze on your skin, the birds in the trees, the traffic in the distance, the rush of water, whatever is in the place you are at—and say inwardly, “For all this, I am grateful.”
Next, think about the important people in your life: your family members, your friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend… Soak up the love and gratitude you feel for them, and in the same way, say, “thank you,” inwardly, “For all these people, I am grateful.” Mentally review the things that make you grateful for life, not forgetting what we tend to take for granted, such as the chance to be alive and healthy, our ability to see, hear, walk, and communicate, You can also visualize the physical things you have—such as technology—and how they make your life easier. Take the necessary time: two, five, ten, or even fifteen minutes, and give thanks.
The gratitude inventory: List a hundred things that you are grateful for. Yes, one hundred things. I know, at first, it may seem impossible to find that many, but they are there. If it helps, create categories: your possessions, your relationship, the activities you enjoy, your current job or your previous jobs, your qualities and traits, outings, concerts, trips you’ve made, and all the places you’ve visited, your health, and that of your loved ones, all your life experiences you are proud of, awards that you have obtained, sports or academic achievements, or clubs you belong to. Think about your interests. For example, if you’re interested in entertainment, you could think about someone you met who you admire, like a recording artist or an actress you’re a big fan of. Maybe you went to a concert where the tickets sold out quickly. Maybe you’ve won a contest or prize money. Once you get started, you’ll find that you will fill your gratitude inventory with a lot more ease than you thought.
The gratitude stone: We get so wrapped up in the routine of everyday life that it’s not always easy to think of practicing gratitude spontaneously, let alone regularly. Here is a little exercise that can help you… Choose a rock or a small stone that you like, regardless of its appearance. The stone here is nothing but a symbol, a physical object whose purpose is to remind you to practice gratitude. You can just as easily replace it with any other small object that means “gratitude” to you. Put your stone of gratitude in your pocket, in your purse, or leave it out on your desk. Choose a place where you are sure you can see it all day long, whenever you want to. Whenever you see it or touch it, if it’s in your pocket, take a break and think of at least one thing for which you feel gratitude or joy right then, at that very moment. Another technique is to program one or more alarms on your phone. For example, one when you get up in the morning and one in the evening at bedtime. If you use this method, remember the positive events that occurred between the two alarms. Feel and express your gratitude.
-- A creator of safe spaces, and an initiator of difficult conversations, M.J. Fievre, B.S. Ed, spent much time building up her Black students, helping them feel comfortable in their skin, and affirming their identities. Her close relationships with parents and students led her to look more closely at how we can balance protecting our child’s innocence with preparing them for the realities of Black life. When―and how―do you approach racism with your children? How do you protect their physical and mental health while also preparing them for a country full of systemic racism? She began to research the issue and speak to school counselors and psychologists to find (and apply!) strategies parents and teachers can use with their children to broach uncomfortable but necessary topics.
M.J. is the author of Badass Black Girl, a daily dose of affirmations for Black Girls
“You'll come away from Badass Black Girl feeling as if you've known the author your entire life, and it's a rare feat for any writer.” ―“Mike, the Poet,” author of Dear Woman and The Boyfriend Book
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