Practicing gratitude is as easy as saying thank you for life’s blessings, and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll start reaping the benefits of gratitude—of which there are plenty, by the way.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
We chatted last week about the benefits of creating a gratitude practice, so I thought this week would be a great time to dive into the How – To of it all. It’s lovely to know something works, but terrible to not know how to use it for yourself right?
Gratitude is “the practice of making space for appreciation,”
(Snehal Kumar, Ph.D.)
This could be an appreciation for the people and things in your life, the experiences you’ve had, or the experiences you’ve yet to have, but gratitude can also (and should) be rooted in an appreciation of the self.
What separates gratitude from thankfulness is intention. Gratitude “is a quality of thankfulness,” (Joree Rose, LMFT). “It’s something you intentionally choose to focus on and practice, which means you don’t just feel it; you do something about it.” (Joree Rose, LMFT)
People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.
Ways to cultivate gratitude
Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, make a habit of sending at least one thank you note a month. Once in a while you might even write one to yourself and then allow yourself to reread those words of encouragement and love whenever you need.
Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual or jot a few sentences about them in your gratitude journal.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
The best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you’re grateful for every day. Gratitude journaling works because it slowly changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on. While you might always be thankful for your great family, just writing “I’m grateful for my family” week after week doesn’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. Get specific by writing “Today my husband gave me a shoulder rub when he knew I was really stressed” or “My sister invited me over for dinner so I didn’t have to cook after a long day.” And be sure to stretch yourself beyond the great stuff right in front of you. Opening your eyes to more of the world around you can deeply enhance your gratitude practice. Make a game out of noticing new things each day. Within your gratitude journal you can dive even deeper by giving yourself specific themes or prompts for each day. Perhaps you alternate between writing about your family, your chosen relationships, your work, your home, your lifestyle, and yourself. This is a great way to keep things fresh and to always be able to find something new to write about.
Count your blessings. Pick a time every day, week, or month to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each time. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Pray. People who are religious or spiritual can use prayer to cultivate gratitude through their chosen dogma or philosophy.
Meditate. Meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.), or even allowing the phrase you use to be “Thank You”.
Create a Gratitude Jar. Several years ago a dear friend of mine made me a “Blessings Jar” for Christmas. She decorated it and attached a small baggie of pre-cut, blank slips of paper and a really lovely pen. The idea is that any time you experience a poignant moment of gratitude, you write it down on one of the slips of paper and put it in the jar. On New Year’s Eve, or your birthday, or when ever you just need a pick-me-up, you can open the jar and revisit all the beautiful things you wrote. The more you use it, the more you will be excited to add things to the jar as they happen. This will immediately make the moment more meaningful and keep you on the lookout for more chances to write.
Create a Gratitude Calendar. You can get a free monthly calendar just about anywhere online, or you can create your own in Google Docs or the Word Suite, or even buy a specific calendar or planner just for this practice. Because you have such a limited space to write on a calendar, the idea here is just to write one word or one short sentence per day of something you are thankful for that day. This is a excellent tool to use at work as it doesn’t take up a lot of space or time, you can keep your calendar visible and accessible, and it’s great to take a peak at when the stress of the day is getting a little away from you.
Write yourself a love note. I have found that sometimes it is very easy to extend your gratitude outward to those around you, but learning to say Thank You to yourself can be a real challenge. Take some time to list or write about all the things you are grateful for in your own being. The yogi in me likes to break things up into Mind, Body, and Soul but you could also consider your skills and achievements as well. Give yourself space and time for this one and then allow yourself to be overwhelmed with all the goodness and love you bring to the world.
Gratitude Practice Tips and Tricks
Be Consistent. Think about what time of day you are most likely to sit down and reflect. Some people love to start their day by tuning into that feeling of thankfulness and abundance and find that if sets their day off on the right foot. Some people love to spend the last few moments of their evening reflecting on the good in their lives. You might find that a mid-day lunch break reflection is a good way to reset and bring yourself back to the present movement. What ever works for you is the perfect answer.
Be Prepared. Set up your journal, calendar, or list where you will use it most. Plan on taking time at work – pin it to your cork board. Want to reflect before bed – set your journal and favorite pen by your bedside. Need the morning reminder to help your pick me up – tape your list up next to your coffee pot.
What ever steps you can take to integrate this practice into your routine will help you in the long run!
Be Specific. Eventually writing “I am thankful for my family” every day is going to get boring and stop producing those fuzzy feelings of love. Instead try to think of they WHY. “I am thankful for my family because they support me when I want to try something new.” “I am thankful for my mom because she texts me in the morning to tell me to have a good day.” The more specific you can become the more those thoughts will really begin to be at the front of your mind, even when you are struggling.
Be Open to New Ideas. University of Rochester partners in crime Edward Deci and Richard Ryan study intrinsic motivation, which is the deep desire from within to persist on a task. One of the biggest determinants is autonomy, the ability to do things the way we want. So don’t limit yourself—if journaling or list making is feeling stale, try out new and creative ways to track your grateful moments. Again, there is no wrong answer so if today you’d rather paint a picture or call your mom and tell her you love her- do that!
Be real. Being excited about the benefits of gratitude can be a great thing because it gives us the kick we need to start making changes. But if our excitement about sleeping better because of our newfound gratitude keeps us from anticipating how tired we’ll be tomorrow night when we attempt to journal, we’re likely to fumble and lose momentum. When we want to achieve a goal, using the technique of mental contrasting—being optimistic about the benefits of a new habit while also being realistic about how difficult building the habit may be – leads us to exert more effort. Recognize and plan for the obstacles that may get in the way. For instance, if you tend to be exhausted at night, accept that it might not be the best time to focus for a few extra minutes and schedule your gratitude in the morning instead.
How do you practice gratitude at home?
What techniques have you had success with? Do you have any other tips or tricks up your sleeves?
I’d love to know more! Comment or message me your thoughts!