THE BLOG
11/12/2014 04:59 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

Gratitude: It's Not Just for Thanksgiving Anymore

Cultivating gratitude is good for you, emotionally AND physically. Best of all, you don't have to look far to find it. Most of us miss a dozen opportunities to feel gratitude before our feet hit the floor in the morning. No matter your style, there are ways to blend this important perspective into your life every day.

Let this month of Thanksgiving help you get started. Try these 5 ways to greater happiness through gratitude:

1. Start Small. We often give thanks for the big things and overlook all the little things that go right to support us every day. Choose a moment during the day to consider all that is good in that very moment, all that is safe, going well, comfortable, working, helping you. Doing this helps you to be fully present in the moment and appreciative of the little things. Linger on them, let them sink in. Listen for any negative thoughts that rise up and correct them. Add and reinforce positive messages in their place.

I like to do this in the morning, when I first wake up. Before the thoughts of the day begin to stream, I take a moment for gratitude. If the house is peaceful, the heat is working, the world outside is quiet, my children are safe, no one is sick, I feel no pain, I love, I am loved, I am free to create a life I want and choose who to spend it with, AND a freshly brewed pot of coffee awaits in the kitchen... I've already got 10 reasons feel grateful and say thank you to the universe before my feet touch the ground. Give it a try.

2. NEVER postpone joy. I once had a colleague who vowed she would not buy herself new clothing until she lost a rather significant amount of weight. Whether she realized it or not, through this deprivation she was postponing joy by not accepting herself as she was. She held hostage the reward of feeling good about her appearance - and of loving herself - until she met certain conditions ('conditional' love). Maybe it isn't your weight, maybe it's the promotion, the house, the car or other things you feel you need to be successful. Maybe you rationalize that although you are exhausted and overworked, it just has to be this way and someday things will change. But be cautioned, when you do this, you reinforce negative thoughts of unworthiness and distance yourself from happiness by placing it forever 'out there' when you will be, do or have whatever you think you must in order to deserve it. Joy is about today, right now, just as things are, just as you are. When you love and accept yourself, you sow fertile soil for gratitude to grow.

3. Keep a journal. Many people find that keeping a gratitude journal helps to keep perspective about what matters and to bring attention to all of the things that we take for granted every day. By writing about all that you have to be grateful for, all the little things that went your way, little by little you can change and reshape your thinking to always look for the positive. We are hard wired to spot the negative; it is a protection mechanism and intended to keep us safe. And while some of that isn't bad and can even propel us to keep growing and learning, too much of it can keep us in a perpetual state of 'not good enough', disappointment and feelings of shame. So reinforce the positive habitually and you will see that you can change the balance.

4. Help someone else. Gratitude is relative. I was amazed at what I became deeply grateful for when I fell on hard times. Realizing that despite my challenges I could still help others made me feel grateful for what I did have, grateful to be useful, and gave me a deep feeling of connection with others. Some call it a 'helpers high' - but no matter what you call it, service to others lifts our spirits and has positive effects on body chemistry as it triggers the release of feel good hormones.

5. Know that everyone has their time of difficulty. When you are in the middle of a storm, it can be hard to find gratitude. But gratitude isn't only about everything going 'right', in fact if everything went right all the time there would be no need to even discuss it. Gratitude is very much about the valuable lessons, learning and growth that come only from digging deep and getting through a crisis, hard time, loss, heartbreak or setback. Something that first presents as a mistake or stroke of bad luck can often later reveal itself to have been a divine intervention, a nudge that moved you out of a bad place or a bridge from where you were to where you needed to be - the proverbial blessing in disguise.