When Gratitude Feels Stale


I have no doubt you’ve heard the value in keeping a gratitude journal or having some sort of gratitude practice. This time of year there is an abundance of articles about gratitude.

Previously, I told you about gratitude’s place in the three tiny lists I make each morning. I love these lists. They only take a few seconds and very little space. They ground my day, reminding me of what I have, that I am loved, and that I am enough.

And yet, jotting down a few things I’m grateful for is not always the same as experiencing gratitude. It can slip into being an automatic recitation of the obvious good things in my life—my house, my family, my dog, food, water, sunshine, etc. I can even become a little resentful at having to acknowledge yet again the things I know I should be grateful to have.

Does this mean my tiny list isn’t helpful? Not necessarily. I do have a tendency to see what is missing in my life and I appreciate practices that consistently remind me of all the good that is already there.

The point of a habit is to make something automatic, but it’s the remembering to consider what I’m grateful for that I want to become automatic…not the list itself. When our gratitude lists become so automatic that we’re no longer even thinking about what we’re listing, it might be time to introduce a little variety. It’s not that the practice itself is no longer useful, but rather that we need a fresh way to approach it.

There are countless ways to practice gratitude. (Be sure to tell me about your favorites in the comments.) Today, I want to move away from my quick, simple list…but I don’t think just making a bigger list is what I need right now. Instead, let’s narrow it down to just one thing and dig in deeper.

I usually list off the things I’m grateful for with the assumption that I know why I’m grateful for them. While that’s generally true, taking some time to focus on those reasons can make stale gratitude feel fresh and deep. Looking at how things impact our lives helps us move beyond the obligation to be grateful and into an actual experience of gratitude.

Choose one thing you are grateful for and spend a few minutes answering these two questions as completely as you can. What specific aspects of this am I grateful for? and Why am I grateful for them?

You can try this with anything you choose. Maybe you want to really dig in to one of the biggest, best things in your life. Maybe you want to focus on a little, everyday thing you often take for granted. You could even use this practice to look for the good in something you wish wasn’t a part of your life. Here are a few examples to get you started.

  • I won’t take up your time elaborating my full response to these questions about my house, but I’m grateful my kitchen is laid out in a way that works well for two people to cook together. This means a lot to me because making and eating brunch together on weekends is one of my favorite times of connection with my husband. Taking time to appreciate this doesn’t make my kitchen less ugly or reduce the work we plan to do on it, but it does increase my experience of gratitude.

  • I spent a lot of time raking leaves recently. I don’t mind doing it, but it doesn’t jump to mind as a way I’m grateful to spend my time. Answering these questions, however, reminds me that having so many leaves to rake means I’m surrounded by mature trees. I love their shade and their beauty and watching them progress through the seasons. I love having a bit of nature right outside my door. Also, raking my lawn reminds me to be grateful for the strength of my body. So many people around me can’t do that level of physical work due to age, accident, or illness. Some may regain their strength, others will not. My own strength won’t last forever.

  • I’m grateful for my favorite pens. They have a consistent, crisp, black line that doesn’t bleed through paper. The way their ink glides allows me to write for a long time without fatiguing my hand. They’re refillable, which saves money and reduces waste. They are inexpensive and easy to find. All these aspects mean I can write as much as I want without inconvenience or discomfort. The more I dig into my gratitude in this way, the more readily I notice the depth of my gratitude in other areas. It helps me be present right where I am instead of always looking for what I wish was different. For me, returning to this practice occasionally reminds me to think about how I’d answer these deeper questions as I jot down my tiny list.

What about you? What is something you are grateful for? How would you answer these questions? Did anything about your answers surprise you? What do you do when gratitude starts to feel stale?