When was the last time you felt at peace? I know that's a loaded question—and I really got to the point right out of the gate—but it's an important one to reflect on. In a society that glorifies the frazzled spectacle of being busy and forever runs on an emotionally charged news cycle, it feels as though the act of being at peace is a luxury that's always just out of reach. We react more than we reflect, we post more than we postulate, and we're exhausted more than we're fulfilled. So what do we do?
Well, if real life were a movie, then this would be the part of the story where you could stay up all night writing a life-changing mission statement or packing your bags for an eye-opening year abroad. But since this isn't Jerry Maguire or Eat, Pray, Love, your options are a lot less glamorous. Instead, they involve getting acquainted with a single but impactful word: gratitude.
Gratitude is the practice of being thankful, and in the rush of modern life, it can seem like a quaint idea—or at least something that should be saved for when you're giving an acceptance speech. But the truth is, gratitude is an action that should be practiced every day, and in so doing, it will help you feel more at peace with your present self. It's easy to get started: Focus on the first small thing that comes to mind.
"Allow yourself to get to the space of a good feeling, I don't care what that good feeling is," Oprah Winfrey said in a Life Class episode about gratitude. "A good feeling increases more good feelings."
Here are 20 ways to practice more gratitude in your life, so that the days are slower, your mind is calmer, and your world feels more at peace.
Wake up slowly. Give yourself a quiet minute in the morning to focus on your breathing. Try not to think of anything else but the air coming in and going out.
Notice the feeling of fresh air on your face. Open your car windows if you have to, and let the breeze rush across your eyes and into your hair.
Go for a walk—gadget-free. Use this quiet time to notice the different shades of flowers in window boxes, or birds in the trees, or the sounds of your neighborhood. Be content with the fact that those things will still be beautiful without photos.
Smile and say hello to your neighbors. The mutual feeling of recognition and community will be gratifying.
Send a thoughtful text to your loved ones. Tell them how much they mean to you, for no reason other than it's the truth.
Do something nice for a stranger, and don't tell anyone else about it. This can be paying for the coffee of the next person in line, helping a mother carry a stroller down a flight of stairs, or holding a door open with patience.
Donate. Find a cause that you believe in, and give as much as you can.
Volunteer. Better yet, if you're able to lend your personal time to that cause, it'll be worth it. Make sure to work volunteering into your schedule to make it a habit.
Leave a voicemail for a family member. Tell them about what you're up to—especially if it's an older relative or a parent. Science has shown that it's more comforting when you can hear your loved one's voice.
Ask your co-worker what you can help with. We're all buried in work, but this simple gesture will show that you're in it together.
Eat lunch outside. Take a moment to get away from your desk and appreciate the sunshine.
Make actual plans with friends. Spend time with your friends, rather than getting into the habit of only calling and texting them. We know how easy it is to want to spend Friday night on the couch with Netflix, but we promise that everyone will be glad to go out.
Read a book before bed. Instead of using this time to scroll through Instagram, pick up a book and read a chapter or two. Again, you'll notice your breathing, and how easy it is to imagine a different setting.
Get out on the water. Water has always been therapeutic, and spending an afternoon boating, fishing, kayaking, or swimming will connect you to your body and to nature.
Write in a journal. Reflection is a key aspect of gratitude, and one of the ways to foster it is to routinely write in a journal. Start by writing down five things that you're thankful for and why.
Cook a new recipe. There are so many different flavors in the world, and yet it's normal to stay cornered in a rotation of the same familiar tastes. By whipping up something new, you can be thankful for your curiosity as much as a new dish.
Start a new hobby. You're someone with so many talents, and don't forget it. Starting a new hobby is one way to prove it, especially if it's something you've always wanted to learn.
Give a sincere "thank you" to someone who serves you. This can be a waiter, a cashier, or a mail carrier.
Write a thank you note to someone who helped you in your career. Did an executive take a chance and offer you an internship that turned into a job? Or did a teacher provide the recommendation you needed to get into a certain program? No matter how long it's been since that happened, it's always a good idea to thank the people who helped you achieve success.
Let someone into your lane. Most of us have become familiar with road rage, and all it does is stress us out. Instead of jumping to this easy reaction, just let someone cut in front of you. You don't know what their day has been like, either.