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How to Practice Gratitude When You Don’t Feel Grateful

November is National Gratitude Month, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. With colder, darker days approaching—and times already tough for many—it’s invigorating to feel the warmth of little moments of sunshine.

You may already be familiar with some of the many benefits of gratitude, but have you ever thought about making gratitude even more of a focal point in your life? What about the lives of your employees?

Here are six wellness challenges that will not only transform your organization, but that will also help you experience a more fulfilled outlook on life.

gratitude 1Grateful Challenge #1: Be Grateful

Whether you’re having a bad mental health day, struggling financially, or feeling disconnected from those around you, some days are just the worst. But other days bring a mix of good moments and bad. The moments we choose to focus on will significantly impact not just our mood, but also our health and our entire outlook on life.

And making the change doesn’t take as long as you’d think. As Harvard Business Review notes in one of its leading studies on gratitude:

“After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”

Ready to harness the transformative power of gratitude? The Be Grateful Challenge asks you to write down three things they’re grateful for every day. If you implement this in your organization, your employees will have at least 90 different things to feel grateful for by the end of the month.

That means your employees need to think of three different things they’re grateful for every day. It’s harder than it sounds, but this challenge forces people to move beyond the obvious sentiments and focus on tiny, everyday joys they would otherwise miss or ignore.

gratitude 2Grateful Challenge #2: Express Thanks

As your employees list out the things they’re grateful for in Wellness Challenge #1, they may want to add people to their lists as well. Past or current mentors, teachers, friends, and even rivals are perfect examples of people to be grateful for and who may have never received a proper token of appreciation.

The Express Thanks Challenge asks employees to write 20 handwritten thank-you notes over the course of 30 days, averaging five notes per week. You can also encourage your employees to go beyond handwritten notes with emails, texts, and even daily Snapchats. (Get those streaks going!)

At the end of the day, it’s the act that’s most important.

gratitude 3Grateful Challenge #3: 100 Thanks

Gratitude and good manners can do so much to bring smiles to faces. People around us do a million small kindnesses every day, but how many of them get “thank yous” in return?

The 100 Thanks Challenge is all about spreading sunshine far and wide, while recognizing how much sunshine comes into our own lives. Over the span of 30 days, encourage your employees to say “thank you” 100 times. Looking for these opportunities will help your workforce see the many tiny ways in which their community lifts them up, whether it’s the stylist who squeezed them in or the colleague who got them out of a jam. For maximum results, try performing this challenge in public.

gratitude 4Grateful Challenge #4: Heart Felt

Sincere thank yous or heartfelt notes are thoughtful and lovely gestures of individual acts of kindness. But what if gratitude stems not from what a person does, but for who they are?

This is where the Heart Felt Challenge comes in. Ask your employees to examine what it is they appreciate in others, and in one month, they have to tell 20 people why they appreciate them.

This particular exercise can be very powerful for a few reasons:

  • For people who are uncomfortable with deeper emotional expressions, this exercise can unlock new levels of communication in interpersonal relationships.
  • Many people simply don’t know how much they’re appreciated and valued. Hearing those words can provide powerful counter-messaging against feelings of isolation and loneliness that can accompany mental health struggles.
  • Employees may find a potent source of ongoing gratitude after realizing they have so many people to appreciate in different ways. They may also gain valuable insights about what it is they do appreciate in people, and which of their own attributes fall short of what they value.

gratitude 5Grateful Challenge #5: Be Positive

Of all the gratitude challenges on our list, this one might be the toughest … and the most easily misunderstood.

We know the power of positive thinking isn’t just a catchphrase. Researchers from John Hopkins Medicine discovered that people with a family history of heart disease who also had what could be described as a “positive outlook” had significantly less risk of a cardiovascular event than those with a more dour outlook.

As such, the Be Positive Challenge asks participants to avoid complaining for 30 days. Why? Because all too often, instead of simply stating our dissatisfaction with a problem, we dwell. We ruminate. We gripe. And nothing changes except the fact that we—and everybody around us—are always talking about how terrible things are.

The Be Positive Challenge is about breaking the cycle and choosing instead to focus on the positive.

Note: Make sure your employees know they’re still encouraged to voice concerns or issues, but that during this challenge, it’s important to spend more time talking about wins, including their own and others’. Finding ways to lift each other up is an excellent way for people to make their outlook (and their workplace) much more positive.

gratitude 6Grateful Challenge #6: Meditation Master

We all have a lot on our minds these days. And it’s hard to stop and think about what you’re grateful for when your brain is juggling so many flaming torches … especially when someone throws a chainsaw into the mix.

Meditation is an effective way to train the mind to quiet the chatter of everyday stress and focus on inner thoughts. Once your mind is still and receptive, focusing on and re-experiencing the feeling of gratitude creates the opportunity for much deeper insights and more impactful personal growth.

The Meditation Master Challenge asks employees to meditate for 60 minutes total in a given month. For beginners, 5-10 minutes per session is a good place to start. The key is to do it consistently enough that it starts to feel like welcome restorative time, rather than a chore.

Gratitude Isn’t About Wins … It’s About Wellness

The wellness benefits of gratitude have surpassed even the most stringent scientific bona fides. And during those times when we’re living under a cloud of global and economic problems, gratitude makes a huge difference.

Finding those sparks of light, beautiful connections, and opportunities to ignite and receive joy shows your employees that practicing gratitude can be transformative. And with these simple (but by no means easy) gratitude challenges, your employees will be well on their way.

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