21 Days of Gratitude

I think about gratitude a lot. I think about how often we say the words “thank you” everyday and about how often we take the time to truly feel the meaning of those  words. I have often wondered if the frequency with which we say thank you causes the words to lose their meaning for us. I think it’s entirely necessary to express gratitude for the small things in life, and yet I can’t help but feel that “thank you” is thrown around too quickly and casually in our day-to-day. In the past few years, I have found myself searching for ways to deepen my gratitude and take the time to not only say thank you, but also to spend more time feeling thankful. When asked to challenge myself for 21 days, gratitude was the first thing that came to my mind. It is something I think about a lot, but at the same time, I feel like I can never think about it enough. Gratitude is a practice that can always be deepened, so I embarked on 21 days of consciously committing even more to my gratitude journey.

For the past few years, I have been on a kind of “gratitude journey.” This began with a letter of gratitude to a person I thought I would never be able to share my appreciation with. Sharing that letter showed me the power that sharing gratitude can have, even when it’s challenging. This initial letter caused me to think about how I could express my appreciation for more people in my life, about how I could say thank you slowly and with purpose. This has evolved into a practice of writing letters of gratitude.

Writing out my gratitude has allowed me to slow down and really feel thankful, to stop and think about the ways in which people have touched my life, and to share my appreciation for them in a way that I might never have been able to in person. In this practice of written gratitude, I have been able to more clearly see and express what the people in my life have brought me.

When I thought about committing to a 21 day challenge of gratitude, writing letters seemed like an obvious answer. It’s a practice I try to engage in at least once a year, but I had never strictly committed to one letter a day, and doing so felt like a good challenge.

Though when I thought about it more, I realized I could go deeper. I could give myself even more of a challenge. I thought about all that I’ve learned from writing letters of gratitude to people in my life, and I realized something: in the past few years, as I’ve learned to express my gratitude to others, I’ve also learned that I have a hard time recognizing good qualities in myself.

I decided to make a list of traits I am grateful to encounter in those around me, and  traits I strive to work on sharing with others in my life. I strive to be a reflection of the good I see in others. It is so easy for me to recognize positive qualities in those around me,

but if I truly believe that every good trait I exhibit is a reflection of the people in my life who have demonstrated those traits to me, why couldn’t I begin to recognize and appreciate those traits in myself?

I am a highly introspective person. I think so much about the world and my place in it, about the people I interact with, and about the meaning of those interactions. Sometimes I feel guilty about thinking too much about my place in the world, about myself. I think about how all of that time could and should be spent on others. But I also know the importance of learning to care for myself, and I know that recognizing and appreciating my own strengths can open up a deeper love and compassion for those around me.

With these 21 days, I challenged myself to come up with 21 traits that I work on in my own life, traits I can so easily recognize in others, but have a hard time appreciating in myself. Where it felt right, where I could trace that trait to its source, I wrote letters to those people I felt had demonstrated those traits to me.

In these 21 days, I have learned a lot about how I think about gratitude. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. I am often thankful, and I feel that my gratitude journey has been defined by my desire to not only live in the quality of being thankful, but also to more consciously show appreciation and return kindness. Appreciation helps me to focus outside of myself and remember that, as important as it is to take care of myself, I can give what I learn back to the world outside of me. I spend a lot of time reflecting inward, but I want to make sure that all of that can be reflected outward as well. I find something so meaningful in a reflectiveness that leaves me.

I’ve learned that appreciation is how I connect to the world. Having an anxiety disorder, the world has a tendency to feel overwhelmingly large. Gratitude helps ground me in the small moments and acts of kindness that have shaped me. When I feel that life is too much, I take a moment and remind myself that the big and overwhelming world can be made smaller if I look at the world as a collection of the best I see in others. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to appreciate the positive traits in myself, to know that as I strive to learn from the good I see in those around me, sometimes it’s okay to think that I have those positive traits too. I can be strong and positive and patient and open and kind and loving, in ways both similar and different to those I appreciate so much. At times when I find it hard to see the good in myself and find it easier to recognize in those around me, I like to think of a quote from Voltaire:

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

Author: Elizabeth Esparza | @elizabethhanna


Window of Gratitude