The challenges of 2020 have taken a toll on many of us and spotlighted our struggles—individually and in our community, emotionally and practically.
When I am struggling, my normal position of positivity is displaced by cynicism and cuss words. Frankly, without a significant course correction, I will be heading into Thanksgiving with a posture of 'whatever,' and I don't think I'm alone.
But the last thing I want to hear right now is 'you should be grateful.'
So while gratitude is the pill we need to take while we are in this funk, we may need to wrap it up in a big chunk of ice cream so we can get that pill down. Instead of the usual “Here’s a list of things to be thankful for,” here are three simple tips to help you live more abundantly with what you already have.
1. Inventory Your Inner Resources
In the United States, our culture generally forgets that our resources include more than material items..But we are wealthier than our accumulation of bank accounts, residences, and cars.Our inner resources are deep wells of value, especially when you consider their influence on our future.
What Are Inner Resources?
In her book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist describes our inner resources as talents and skills, qualities of character, hopes and dreams, and the relationship resources in our circle of family and friends.
Once we take an inventory of these inner resources, we discover they are, as Twist writes, “more valuable and unlimited than any possessions [you] might have in a bank account.”
Why should we take time for this inventory? Twist argues, “It is precisely when we turn our attentions to these inner resources—in fact, only when we do that—that we can begin to see more clearly the sufficiency in us and available to us, and we can begin to generate effective, sustainable responses to whatever limitations of resources confront us.”
In other words, the more we’re aware of our inner resources, the better we can address the other resources we may lack.
How to Inventory Your Inner Resources
The simplest way to create this list is to brainstorm on your own. You will likely find yourself coming back to the list repeatedly to add more entries as you begin to focus on your wealth.
However, my favorite method for creating this inventory relies on the buddy system. Invite a partner or friend to join you. This collaboration between the two of you provides outside reflection as well as accountability, increasing the value of your inventory.
- Tell your partner about a challenging time in your life and how you navigated it.
- Have your partner write down all of the inner resources you used during that challenging time (your talent for organizing action plans, the support you got from your sister, etc.).
- Next, describe to your partner the circumstances that led to one of your greatest successes.
- Have your partner write down all of the inner resources you used during that time of success (your patience, your productivity, etc.)
- Repeat the exercise for your partner so you’re the one listening and writing, and continue to add to your own list as more inner resources come to mind.
2. Look Backward with Gratitude
Gratitude would inevitably make this list because it is the most effective way out of a funk. Scientists have found that people who regularly practice gratitude:
- Are considerably more enthusiastic, interested and determined
- Feel 25% happier
- Are more likely to be both kind and helpful to others
- Have higher stress resilience
Ways to Practice Gratitude (That Aren’t Keeping a Gratitude Journal)
Building gratitude is a skill—like learning a new sport or language—and it requires practice. The most popular method is keeping a gratitude journal where you make regular entries, even on days you don’t feel like it. Collecting your gratitudes in one place makes it easy to review them periodically which will help you cultivate a mindset of thankfulness.
But most importantly, you need to find a method you will stick with because it works for you. So if the idea of a gratitude journal induces an eye roll, here are some creative ways to begin tracking your gratitude:
- Gratitude jar: Instead of listing the things you are grateful for, try writing each one down on an index card or Post-it note and collecting them in a jar (Bonus points if you can turn your collection into something visually beautiful). Once the collection is complete, identify a trigger such as a holiday, birthday, or the end of the month. When you hit that milestone, go through the items in your collection to reaffirm your gratefulness.
- Gratitude rock: Pick out a rock or other small object to symbolize all you are grateful for, then put it in your pocket, on your desk, or on your nightstand as a reminder of your wealth. Challenge yourself to mentally list the entries on your list of gratitudes or simply think, “thank you” each time you notice the rock during your day.
- Holiday decorations: Decorate a tree with ornaments or leaves that symbolize the elements of your gratitude. Perhaps you write down each element on a leaf-shaped piece of paper. What about getting a set of basic ornaments and writing a gratitude on each one? For a simple exercise, go around the holiday dinner table and share something you appreciate about everyone seated or the last year in general.
- Grateful letters or texts: Is there someone you have never thanked for something nonmaterial—support, kind words spoken, a fun day, inspiration? Take a moment to write it down and send it to them.
- Group list: Collaboration increases our effectiveness as we hold one another accountable. So use any of the above methods with your circle of loved ones. Even if you can’t gather in person, find a way to virtually create your list together.
3. Do Without
To really level up your sense of abundance, try a “do without” exercise so you can rediscover your appreciation of the little things. Anyone who has ever dieted has experienced the power of absence making the heart grow fonder: when you haven’t had chocolate or dessert for a while, that first bite can be magical.
While the concept of deprivation sounds antithetical to our goal of abundance, centuries of the religious practice of Lent have taught us that there are benefits to this strategy. Research shows that the more we have of something pleasurable, the easier it is to take for granted and the harder it is to savor it. We also tend to think that we’ll be happier if we have more of the things we value, but studies also show that the opposite is true.
Simple Steps to Try
- Choose one thing you are thankful for, and commit to abstaining from it for a short length of time.
- Once you have given it up, notice the moments when you wish you could have it. Then, intentionally steer those thoughts away from the craving and toward all the things you have to be thankful for.
- Once you are done doing without, try to link your consumption of the item to thoughts about what you are thankful for. Your goal is to associate gratitude with this item each time it comes to mind.
Gratitude is definitely what we need right now, but some seasons call for a different approach to cultivating your gratefulness. It’s never too late to shift your mindset, so get creative, find a method that works for you, and let the counting of blessings begin.
Candice McGarvey, CFP® is a Willow certified and trained financial coach. You can read more about her or book a consultation with her here. Or sign up to get matched with another Willow financial coach here.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Willow.