“If you want to find happiness, find gratitude” -Steve Baraboli

The other day, as I was walking in the city of Chicago, my encounter with a nice woman, Sarah, gave me the idea to write this article. She asked me if I wanted a hair cut- for free. I thought about it and wasn’t sure what to say- people on Milwaukee Street are always trying to talk me into things, but I agreed to this. The salon has a great reputation, I was in a great mood, and she looked like someone I could trust (I hoped at least).

I met Sarah at the saloon a couple hours later and she did an amazing job. We talked about our lives, where we wanted to travel, our plans to find a husband (someday), and she even gave me her number to stay in touch. While I am grateful for many things everyday, that day, I was specifically grateful for genuinely kind people like her.. And free hair cuts, of course.

Practicing gratefulness is essential to find joy. It helps us appreciate the smaller things: Warm coffee in the morning. The ability to walk and run. Sunshine. Music. Bubble baths. Just simply being alive.

A personal example of gratefulness is my move back to America. When I was on the plane, flying from Dublin to Chicago after seven months, I felt sadness of leaving, but also a feeling of gratification. I was overwhelmingly grateful to have built a life in two different countries in the world. For the lifelong friendships I made, places I was able to see, struggles I experienced, and for huge personal growth.

On the contrary, I realized what I appreciate about the American culture. I missed 24 hour convenient stores, American accents, the vibrant city of Chicago, large supermarkets, level of comfort, transportation, awareness of what surrounds me, the food (especially Mexican and donuts), and most importantly, the people. I wouldn’t say I took things for granted before, but my level appreciation wasn’t the same.

This new appreciation of life has really helped me look at life in a positive light. According to an article in Psychology Today, Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted various studies that has found that gratitude increases happiness and decreases depression. Further, it has been found to increase self-esteem, improves empathy skills, improves physical health, and reduces aggression.

Life doesn’t always go our way, so remembering what we are grateful for during hard times, can help our mentality and over well-being. Also, life changes can make it feel like the light at the end of the tunnel is non-existent. Here are a few things I have done that have helped me practice gratitude. They are what I’ve learned personally and also through influential people in my life.

1). Journaling- It’s a very therapeutic tool to use in general. It helps get our thoughts out and even organize them. James Pennebaker, a lead researcher on expressive writing, has found that by writing out our own experiences, we are able to better comprehend it. Further, it let’s us become aware of what we are grateful for. Writing out what we appreciate gives us something to come back to. When we have an overwhelmingly long day, it can help you focus on the good.

2). Becoming one with nature- Being in nature is an amazing way to clear your mind. It allows us to feel alive and be more creative. This is the time of technology running our lives, however, being at one with nature and allowing ourselves to disconnect, gives us a better perspective on life. It could be as simple as taking a break and observing nature outside a window. Being on our electronic devices all the time, can lead us to comparing ourselves to others, and thinking others have it better than us.

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However, nature allows us to realize that there is beauty in the world regardless of what is happening in our lives. When we have our feet grounded in nature, hearing the sounds, and observing the way our earth is designed, without distractions, we are more aware. It can be a way of meditating by focusing on our thoughts. Instead of ignoring our thoughts, we can let them be there, without judgement. Having our mind at ease allows us to be more appreciative of the world around us. The world is an insanely beautiful place.

3). Say “thank you” more. Showing others that we appreciate their actions is so important in practicing gratitude. It can change your relationship with others because they feel valued. Say thank you to the cashier, to the waiter/waitress, to the bus driver. It acknowledges the person and if you can make a difference in someone’s day by saying these words, why pass it up?

4). Meditate. This has become a recent practice of mine. If you don’t have the app “Insight Timer,” I highly recommend. The meditations are guided and there are plenty to choose from. I personally love them in the morning or anytime I am feeling stressed. Meditating can also be done by having a place in your house you sit, relax, being mindful of your breathing and thoughts.

There’s a type of meditation called, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. This technique is now used all over America. This practice focuses on reducing stress levels and has been found to reduce anxiety.

If you’re like me, the hardest part of meditating is becoming interested in practicing.Sitting still and facing your thoughts with no distractions, isn’t always what we want to do. However, I challenge you to make it part of your daily routine.

Let us practice gratitude and allow ourselves to center our thoughts on what we do have. Also, remember to be kind to yourself. Great things take time.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

Originally published at medium.com