Friday, September 20, 2013

Making Gratitude a Habit

Are you tired of comparing yourself with others and competing with the people around you to see who can have the latest and greatest gizmos?  Have you figured out that advertising is just designed to separate you from your money but aren’t sure how to fight back against what can sometimes feel like a relentless tide of consumerism?
Gratitude is a good place to start.  It sounds simple enough, and it really is.  But where do you start?  How do you use gratitude to overcome competition?  How do you replace a habit of comparing yourself with everyone around you with a habit of gratitude?
Just like any new habit, it takes more work at first, but gets easier with practice.  In the beginning, you might want to sit down and actually write a gratitude list.  Find a comfortable spot, free of distractions (looking at you, Facebook and Pinterest…).  Get a pen and a piece of paper, and start writing.  Think of everything good in your life.  Loved ones tend to be pretty high on most people’s gratitude lists, but your list can also include physical things like the roof over your head, as well as less tangible things like the happy feeling you get when you play Frisbee with your dog or the challenging and rewarding job you have.  The more the merrier.
If you haven’t developed a habit of gratitude, you might find that even though you know you’re grateful for all the good things in your life, you haven’t been expressing that gratitude very well.  Now’s the time to change that.  Go out of your way to make sure that any people on your list know that they’re on it.  Express gratitude in simple but sincere ways, and do so frequently.  Expressing gratitude for the non-living things on your list is a good way to reinforce the idea of gratitude within yourself.  So go ahead and tell your house that you’re grateful to it for keeping your warm and dry, even if you feel a bit silly talking to your house.  It’s not the house that needs to hear it.  It’s you.  The more you express gratitude, the more you’ll start to feel it.  And as gratitude takes a strong hold in your daily thoughts, competition and comparison will have less room to roam around in your head.
Surround yourself with people who express gratitude as well.  And then focus on how lucky you are to have them in your life instead of focusing on whether they have a nicer house, car, vacation destination, or whatever it is that tends to push your comparison buttons.  Instead of competing with the people around you to see who can acquire the most status symbols, focus on people who don’t care about status symbols in the first place.  Talk to your closest friends about your desire to feel more gratitude and less competition.  You might find that they’re feeling the same way and you can help each other feel more contented with what you already have.
If there are aspects of your life that you’ve tended to compare negatively to people around you, take an honest look at your situation and ask yourself if you need to make some changes.  Simply wishing that you earned as much money as your college roommate will not make it so. But maybe there are steps that you can take to increase your income if that’s in line with the rest of your goals.
Do you feel jealous when your friend describes her far-flung vacations while you haven’t left the state in five years?  Instead of just succumbing to the bummer that is negative comparison, focus on the positive options you have:  You can ask your friend what she does to make her vacations a reality.  You might find that she’s a super-saver, scrimping in other areas of her budget to save up for her trips.  Once you know how she does it, maybe you can implement some of her tricks and start planning your own incredible journey.
But what if your friend makes twice as much money as you do, and the simple fact is that she can afford fancy vacations and you can’t?  That’s where gratitude comes in.  Picture the last vacation you took - even if it was just a camping weekend 20 miles from home - and remember how much fun you had.  Focus on what was good about it, instead of wishing it had been on an tropical island instead.  And as for your friend who takes awesome vacations?  Remind yourself that you’re grateful for her friendship and glad that she’s part of your life.  Tell her that.  And then focus on the good things that you have that don’t require a huge salary.  This will take some practice, especially if you’re used to negative thinking and making critical comparisons about your life.  But the more you do it, the easier it will get.  And the more you do it, the more opportunities you’ll see for simple pleasures in life - things that will truly make you feel grateful without any need for advertising to suck you in.

Frugal Babe is a mid-30s American wife and mama who has been careful with money since childhood and loves the flexibility that her frugality has given her. She is the face behind the Frugal Babe website and a contributor to the CareOne Debt Relief Services blog, a community that provides debt consolidation and money-saving advice.

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