August 31, 2019

Enjoying our “Crap Sandwich” (& other Gratitude Practices that Actually Work).

I got the memo on the benefits of having a daily gratitude practice several years ago.

Having a consistent gratitude practice has been scientifically linked to improved mood, physical health, a sense of overall well-being, better sleep, and mental strength—just to name a few stellar benefits.

One of the things I love about practicing gratitude is that it brings me back into the moment.

But I started feeling burned out on my regular gratitude practice. I’d list the same things, over and over again. I found that my mind was swimming in to-dos, racing to the past, or fast-forwarding into the future, while I was trying to remember what the heck I was grateful for.

So I started doing “gratitude challenges.”

Gratitude challenges are practices that require me to unplug from autopilot and reconnect with what I am truly grateful for. I can’t just mindlessly list off what I’m grateful for. To do these gratitude challenges, I have to get still and be present in my contemplation.

Gratitude practices, on the whole, help us reframe our attention and improve our perspective. The three gratitude challenges I’m going to share with you have helped me to reclaim peace and equanimity during my gratitude practice.

If you’ve been feeling gratitude burnout, I invite you to try one of these three gratitude challenges:

Gratitude Challenge #1: Be grateful for what you have taken for granted.

In this challenge, come up with 10 things that you’ve overlooked that make your life better, easier, or more enjoyable.

This is a challenging practice because, by definition, when we take certain things for granted, we no longer recognize those things that contribute to our well-being. Our fortune remains invisible until we teach ourselves to notice our fortune again.

Last week, I was feeling ho-hum. Life wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. I felt like I wasn’t engaged with the richness of my life. I was feeling kind of blah, so I decided to do the “Being grateful for what I have taken for granted” challenge.

I realized I was grateful for my stove’s exhaust fan. My wife and I had installed it when we moved into our house a few years ago. I love to cook. In our last house, I didn’t have a range exhaust fan. So, any time I cooked on high heat, I had to take the battery out of the smoke detector; otherwise, the smoke from the stove would set off the alarm.

I was definitely grateful for my oven range’s exhaust fan. I added that to my gratitude list

I was also grateful that my wife and I finally found a brand of food that my dog, Ollie, loves but doesn’t give him indigestion. Ollie has a sensitive stomach. It wasn’t uncommon for him to wake us up at 2 a.m. because he had to go to the bathroom. 

I was definitely grateful for this brand of dog food and the opportunity for us to all sleep through the night.

Being grateful for what you have taken for granted helps you transcend states of monotony. Quite often, I’ll note that I am grateful for the weather. When we get caught up in our inner and outer life dramas, it’s easy to take for granted the sun on our skin, moderate temperatures, or the rain, if it’s been especially dry. 

Being grateful for what we’ve taken for granted encourages us to become more aware of the subtle, often simple things that make our lives better. 

What about you? Could you try naming the things you are grateful for that you may have overlooked or taken for granted? Could this gratitude challenge help you to reacquaint yourself with your good fortune and blessings?

Gratitude Challenge #2: Be grateful for the crap.

I’m learning how to be grateful when things don’t go my way. It’s the only way I learn acceptance. Being grateful for the crap teaches us how to see things from a new perspective. Better perspectives lead to better insights, and better insights lead to better outcomes.

When something doesn’t go the way I want it to, I’ll use this particular gratitude challenge. Like the “Being grateful for what I have taken for granted challenge,” I like to come up with 10 reasons I’m grateful that things didn’t go my way, or that I didn’t get my desired outcome.

For example, I do a lot of work in sales. Which means I get told “No” a lot by prospective clients. When I lose an important deal, I do this challenge.

Here’s what happens to me every single time:

The first few reasons why I am grateful I didn’t get what I wanted are usually petty and surface-level. For example, I might write that I didn’t want to work with that prospective client anyway—he was an idiot! I don’t judge myself for what I come up with. I just go with the flow and get the grievance off my chest. Because by the time I come up with the next reasons why I’m grateful for the crappy outcome, I begin to see the possible benefits or blessings of the situation. For example, I might acknowledge that I didn’t have the time to do the new project or engagement anyway.

By the time I get to the final reasons I’m grateful things didn’t go my way, I begin discovering new insights that I was blind to when I was upset or disappointed. For example, I might see that the opportunity I thought was so “good” may not be as good as I first thought. I might discover I am grateful that I didn’t have to sacrifice my health by working day and night to deliver the project or assignment. Or, because I didn’t get the project, I am grateful I have more time to devote to an even better assignment that is pending. Or, I might feel incredible gratitude for the clients and opportunities I do have.

But none of those insights would have been possible had I not inquired and explored why I was grateful for my “crap sandwich.”

What about you? The next time you get dealt a crap sandwich, could you find enough stillness to come up with 10 reasons why you could be grateful for having to eat that crap sandwich? Do you think if you tried this gratitude challenge, your perspective might change?

Gratitude Challenge #3: Be grateful for what you no longer have.

I find I spend way too much time ruminating about my past. This gratitude challenge encourages me to reflect on my past, but with a better perspective. In this challenge, I list the things I no longer have in my life that I am grateful for.

I used to be in a relationship that was poison to me and my ex. I’m grateful I am no longer in that relationship. I used to live in an apartment with no windows—literally, I would have to leave my apartment complex to see if it was sunny or raining. I am grateful to now live in a house with windows! I used to drive a car that would break down at the most inopportune times—in the rain, in a snowstorm, in the middle of nowhere. I’m grateful I now drive a reliable vehicle!

I may not prefer some of the things that I have in my life right now, but when I practice gratitude for the things I no longer have that I do not want, I restore my equilibrium. I can appreciate what I do have. I can see my life from abundant eyes. 

What about you? What are you grateful for that you no longer have in your life? 


I like to “spice up” my gratitude practice. Leave a comment and let me know one of your favorite gratitude practices. Help others and help me by sharing what gratitude practices work for you, so we can all add to our “gratitude piles.”

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