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5 Gratitude Practices That Can Make You a Happier Person

Look back on your day and find something to smile about

Lately, at the end of class, as we sit for a moment between resting pose and “namaste,” I’ve been inviting my yoga students to reflect back on their practice to find something that makes them smile. Originally, I was thinking that intentionally focusing (even for just a second) on something that makes them happy could send my students into the next part of their day feeling upbeat and grateful. The laughing stories I’ve gotten to hear as everyone rolls up their mats and puts on their shoes have been happy “extras” that have certainly sent me out into my day with a smile on my face.

But the best gift of all was the student who emailed me to tell me that our shared moments of mindfully searching for something to smile about had inspired an all-day practice. Each time she shifted gears during the day, she was pausing to reflect back on whatever she had just completed. Her intention was the same as ours in class – to find something that made her smile. After a few days of this practice, she noticed she was in better spirits at the end of the day. Even better, she found herself drifting off to sleep with a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude.

5 practices that can teach you to savor moments

The idea of looking back over your day with an eye to moments you’d like to savor is not a new one. In fact, St. Ignatius (who lived in the 1500s in Spain) created a special kind of prayer called the Daily Examen. This prayer is meant to be relatively quick. In it you reflect back on your day with the intention to recall moments in which you felt especially centered or peaceful or close to God. The prayer serves as an opportunity to notice your emotions throughout the day, to express thanks and to look forward with optimism to tomorrow.

There are many non-religious practices which provide similar types of insights and support the same upbeat sense of gratitude. Years ago, my sister introduced me to one I especially like – the gratitude journal. Like the Examen, she taught me to take a few minutes at the end of the day to make a little list of three to five things from my day for which I felt grateful. I was not allowed to list the obvious things – my kids, my husband or my cat. Instead, I had to stretch to find things specific to that particular day, such as glimpse of the ocean, the fact that there had been no line at the market, or the snack-sized Hershey bar I’d found at the bottom of my purse.

While we were on vacation this winter, I learned that my daughter keeps something called a “Thought Bible” on her phone. It is a quick and easy place for her jot down things that make her pause, smile or laugh. Once I knew what she was doing, I found myself looking and listening for “moments” to suggest for her list. We had a good laugh at the airport over several moments from our trip that had made their way into her phone. I love that she has found a modern way to practice awareness and gratitude at such a young age.

Last week, a friend showed me her Bullet Journal, which is both a way to stay organized and a mindfulness practice created by Ryder Carroll. The journal is both a planner and a place to store treasured thoughts and memories. My friend’s is inspiringly beautiful – colorful and filled with little works of art – but I imagine simpler versions could be just as rewarding. In addition to lists of books she wants to read, places she wants to go and dreams she is dreaming, she has set aside a page per month for special moments that she does not want to forget. While I don’t have a Bullet Journal yet, just the idea of starting one makes me smile.

As I was noodling around with the idea of Bullet journaling on the web, I found an article describing a practice that combines Bullet journaling and the Examen. The author, Jessie Bazan, realized that “gratitude worthy” moments were getting lost by the end of the day in the hustle and bustle of her life. Rather than waiting until she sat down to practice the Examen, she created a page in her Bullet Journal to keep a running list of moments that moved her. The immediacy of this practice appeals to me because of its ability to support a more consistent mindfulness and sense of gratitude in our days.

Searching for and expressing gratitude makes you a happier person

In fact, it occurred to me that my daughter’s “Thought Bible” could easily translate into a “Gratitude Bible” on my own phone or in the phones of my yoga students as we reflect back on our practices in search of something that makes us smile. Just as Ms. Bazan was worried that she was “losing” moments each day that made her feel grateful, the moments that make us smile during a yoga practice are not always the moments that we recall even two hours after we’ve rolled up our mats. In fact, what seems to stick in our minds from our practices is decidedly less uplifting – the posture we toppled out of, or the pose we couldn’t do as well as our neighbor, or the moment we had to retreat to child’s pose because we were tired.

With time and practice, I believe that regularly searching our experiences for moments that make us smile can create a happier life. Taking a moment several times a day to reflect on such moments can leave us feeling profoundly grateful – some would even say blessed. Mindfulness like this (no matter the method you choose to treasure it) can dramatically shift our experience of our lives – leaving us, as St. Ignatius intended, feeling hopeful and intentional as we look forward to tomorrow.

Join Amy in a 30-week spirituality course of prayer and meditation through The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises to seek moments of gratitude and closeness with God daily.