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5 science backed strategies to practice gratitude and appreciation

Appreciate Anything to Appreciate Everything.

Appreciate woman standing with hands in prayer position and Be Happy

Did you know the time you spend appreciating your life in general will actually help you make peace with the past and increase happiness in the present?  Research shows when you appreciate anything you strengthen your ability to appreciate everything.

There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is.
~ Albert Einstein ~

Five ways to practice gratitude and appreciation

  1. Identify what you appreciate about your life 

Generate the experience of joy by meeting people where you want to see them. Make a game out of looking for and focusing only on positive aspects. Do your best to focus on finding the opportunities in all situations. Look for any shred of evidence to help you connect with something to be grateful for.

Here are some examples to help get you started:

  • You might appreciate your warm comfortable car as you sit in traffic.
  • When you’re waiting in line at the store or bank, look for something to appreciate about the people around you. This could be what you notice externally such as an item of clothing or appearance or what you sense about them and their energy.
  • While at work, notice what you appreciate about your coworkers, your boss, or your work environment.
  • What do you appreciate about those who support you throughout your day such as customer service staff, family members, friends, or others? What do you appreciate about your loved ones’ health and well-being?
  • What do you appreciate about your body that allows you to get through your day?
  • What do you appreciate about the money you have to buy food and other necessities or even luxuries?
  • What do you appreciate about the beauty of nature you experience in any part of your day?
  • If you have pets, what do you appreciate most about them?
  1. Compliment people: Express gratitude

Give compliments as often as you can especially to those that are assisting you in some way. You will feel better and you will be giving off great energy. When you express gratitude you attract appreciation. You might even notice a difference in the customer service you receive.

  1. Write a gratitude list

List five things you are grateful for in the morning or at night. This simple gratitude practice is proven to bring results in boosting your happiness levels. It can be as simple as appreciating the person who held the door open for you or who prepared your food. You might also appreciate any of the delights you experience with your five senses such as the sound of birds singing, clear blue skies, the taste of something sweet, the smell of flowers, or touch of someone you love. This practice helps you see life through the perspective of gratitude. Once you write your list, allow a couple of minutes to focus on the genuine feeling of appreciation for the things on your list. Contemplate why you’re grateful for the items you listed. As you recall those important people and things you care about in your life, you increase your gratitude memory. This simple practice is proven to bring results in boosting your happiness levels. As you practice gratitude every day, it won’t take long before gratitude is your natural state of being, and when that happens, you will have unlocked one of the greatest secrets to life.

  1. Make a list of your accomplishments and successes

Take some time to relax and allow your mind to identify moments you are proud of, inspired by or feel especially good about yourself. What would others say you have succeeded in or accomplished in your life. Write down those moments that make you feel the best about yourself and your life to date.

  1. Notice the awe of everyday wonders

Focus on the awe of the natural rhythm of the ocean tides, sunset and sunrises, the diversity of flowers and people or the power of innovation and technology in your life today.

Appreciating what you have will strengthen your ability to create more of it. According to David Pollay MA, gratitude is the foundation that determines the strength of the bridge that leads to your goals and dreams. If the foundation of your bridge on both sides of the river bank are not strong than your bridge will likely collapse. The stronger your foundation on each side the further your bridge will take you into your future. The depth of your gratitude determines the length of your bridge. Gratitude compels you to focus on what you have in your life more so than what you feel has been taken away.

Appreciate and Let Go of the Past

Practicing gratitude has been shown to decrease feelings of resentment and regret while increasing acceptance. Acceptance is a necessary ingredient for making peace with the past. When you reflect on the past, your mind naturally looks to the future for an opportunity to change or make improvements. Some people find this transition challenging because they have difficulty letting go of regrets and disappointments. Appreciation is a powerful strategy to help make this transition because it organically helps you let go of the past so that you can move forward.

When you appreciate, you stop using the present to change the past. You stop the futile attempt of believing something shouldn’t have happened and embrace that it did happen. In doing so, you move into the powerful position of letting go of the past.

As you appreciate, you release resistance and open to the flow of things unfolding in perfect timing. When you accept that what you resist persists, you understand that the energy of resistance stops you from freely moving forward. On the other hand, the energy of appreciation is accepting, fluid, and inspiring. Actively developing your gratitude muscle will allow you to integrate your past while giving you a more balanced perspective on the good things in your life. Research studies have shown that looking for ways in which past negative experiences have led to growth, character development, or even positive outcomes increases the ability to let go and move forward. We realize this can be challenging when experiences from the past seem too big, traumatic or difficult to move beyond. We have found Brainspotting therapy to be a powerful method for releasing residue emotional stress and traumas. It helps regulate the nervous system and bring about a sense of inner safety and greater openness to experience more appreciation and gratitude.

How can you use gratitude to assist you in letting go of the past? As you reflect on your past, look for the growth, opportunity, or value associated with all past experiences. Bless and release anything that you regret. If you need to communicate an acknowledgement or apology, then have the courage to make it so that you can free yourself. Since you can’t change the past, any time spent being upset about it leads to a vicious cycle of powerlessness. No matter how hard you try, you can’t alter past events. Consider that the world is filled with examples of those who are more fortunate than you and those who are less fortunate. You get to choose what you focus on. Your choice will lead you to either acceptance and appreciation or resistance and stagnation. Also take time to appreciate all aspects of your life. The time you spend appreciating in general will actually help you make peace with areas you find challenging to release. Research has shown that when you appreciate anything, you strengthen your ability to appreciate everything.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we
learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick,
and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

— Buddha

Bless and Release the Past Exercise

  1. Look at the situation from your past that you feel unsettled about and examine it honestly.
  2. Identify and feel any unresolved feelings associated with what happened.
  3. Communicate where you feel ownership, acknowledgment, or an apology is necessary on your part.
  4. Forgive yourself and others.
  5. Identify your growth, character development, or clarity gained from the experience. Choose to focus on what you gained, not on what you feel was lost.
  6. As you move forward, continuously choose to bless and release the situation as you focus on the lessons learned.

Expressing gratitude is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to transform your life. In fact, without gratitude, things can’t change because feeling ungrateful puts you in a state of resistance to the very things you desire. By letting go of the past, you release resistance and liberate the energy that was being used to hold on. Said in another way, when you let go of what doesn’t work, you make room for what does work. This renewed energy creates a surge of movement toward creating what you want. When you let go of resistance, you free up your energy to make a difference with what you have in the present.

More important, only when you release resistance and gain access to your full energy potential in the present can you truly expect to achieve your happiness potential. Blessing and releasing the past is an essential part of the Happy Map. We recommend practicing this exercise with any issues that feel unresolved to help you make peace with your past. When you let go of resistance, you free up your energy to make a difference with what you have in the present.

Coaching and Counseling

Hilary Stokes Ph.D. and Kim Ward Ph.D. have been a team for 20 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness. If you are interested in learning the answers to the most frequently asked questions on how to decrease stress and increase happiness sign up for their free video series.

About the Authors

A smiling woman with blond hair, wearing a pink top, posing outdoors with greenery in the background.

Hilary Stokes Phd

Dr. Hilary Stokes is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in San Diego, California. Dr. Hilary received her PhD in psychology with a specialty in transpersonal psychology from San Diego University for Integrative Studies, a master’s degree in social work from San Diego State University and a master’s degree in Sport Psychology from San Jose State University. In addition to her ….

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Kim Ward Phd

Dr. Kim Ward received her PhD in psychology with a specialty in transpersonal psychology from San Diego University for Integrative Studies. She also holds a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology from John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California. Dr. Kim is a certified trauma-informed coach and life coach in private practice in San Diego, California. In…

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