“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~Cicero
To be grateful is to be happier. However, when we experience a job loss, divorce, loss of a loved one is when it’s not so easy to see the good. These are the times, though, when practicing gratitude is most beneficial because it can help us heal and become more hopeful. Being grateful also gives us a boost in happiness – by 25 percent – according to University of California Psychology Professor Robert Emmons, PhD and gratitude expert. His research found that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness and optimism. Here are 20 ways on how to practice gratitude for a happier life:
1. Write a letter or note of thanks. John Kralik, author of 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life, was at a low point in his life when an ex-girlfriend sent him a beautiful thank you note for the Christmas present he gave her. That inspired him to write daily thank you notes to all the people who touched his life and, through his expression of gratitude, came financial gain, true friendship, weight loss, and inner peace. Writing thank you notes is a great way to express gratitude. People enjoy opening them and it’s a thoughtful gesture to acknowledge people for what they bring to your life.
2. Recognize each day as a gift. “Each new day is a gift to us and the only appropriate response for this gift is gratefulness,” says Brother Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk in a beautiful video called A Good Day. Every day we wake up is a blessing because we are still here and can, if we choose, make the most of the day and enjoy life’s many pleasures.
3. Keep a gratitude journal. Writing down what we are grateful for each day helps us focus on all we have in life rather than on what we are lacking. Journaling our thoughts can also be fun and insightful. You may want to purchase a journal that has a special cover or is leather bound, or even keep your writings in an online gratitude journal. Whatever you choose, here are some great “Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal” by the Greater Good Science Center.
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” ~Henry David Thoreau
4. Enjoy the beauty of nature. Technology can consume us – ipads, ipods, TV, and computers. Putting them aside to notice the beauty of nature by going for a walk, a hike and even a drive is good for the soul. The ocean, trees, flowers, and animals can all have a calming effect and help us to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. As Thoreau says, if we unconsciously yield to the subtle magnetism in nature, it will put us “aright”.
5. Take nothing for granted. Who or what may you be taking for granted? We can easily fall into a routine and neglect what’s important around us. For example, health is one thing we may take for granted. Every day is a blessing when we wake up feeling well, with no pain in our bodies. Some people never experience this. If you are taking your health for granted, it is the first thing that, when it goes, we want it back with all your heart. Similar to losing a loved one and wishing we had told them how we really felt, or treated them better.
6. Celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. To acknowledge friends, family and even acquaintances’ birthdays and anniversaries is one of the best ways to express gratitude. A simple phone call, card, or e-mail will make that person feel appreciated and special. Life’s circumstances can be unpleasant at times and to celebrate another person’s special day is something joyful and within our control.
7. Compliment others daily. A genuine compliment can make another person feel good. Here is an example for a coworker: “You have a great sense of humor and stay so calm and cool under pressure. I wish I could be more like you. Thanks for all your support with that project”. We all have good qualities. Telling people how their good qualities make a difference for others is life giving. See if you can give one sincere compliment a day (shoot for 3!) to anyone who you come across and see how the goodness spreads.
“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~Lao Tzu
8. Remember: There is nothing lacking. Our minds tend to lean towards what we are lacking in life instead of all the abundance that exists around us. We may not see it because we are not necessarily looking for it, but to become more conscious of all we have in life, can mean the difference between feeling miserable or content.
9. Raise a happier child. Raising children to be grateful and express this gratefulness will make them happier. You can teach them to send thank you notes for gifts received, to express thanks to their teachers, or simply say thank you more often. Sharing thanks around the dinner table each night is another way to build the gratitude muscle as a family.
10. Create gratitude affirmations. Saying affirmations silently or aloud helps us change our inner dialogue that may be creating self-limiting beliefs, which can prevent us from living our potential. Spiritual leader and author Louise Hay believes in the power of affirmations to change our lives. She believes that when we say affirmations, we are stepping out of our victim role and acknowledging our own power. Creating affirmations is one of the best ways to practice gratitude. View some examples of affirmations here.
11. Vow not to complain for 21 days. Do you think you could stop complaining for 21 days straight? Complaining feels good because it gets our negative feelings. However, if it becomes a habit, it can be toxic, bringing us down. See how long you can go without complaining about your job, a family member, your finances, traffic, the weather, etc. Pastor Will Bowen wrote a book, A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Enjoy the Life You Always Wanted. He believes that good things can happen for people in abundance if they gave-up complaining. He challenged his congregation to form a habit of gratitude and not complain for 21 consecutive days. Many inspiring stories transpired with people transforming their health, relationships and careers.
12. Make a habit of thank you. Saying thank you comes easy with co-workers or grocery store workers. With your family, however, it may be more of a stretch to say thank you to your spouse for cooking a lovely dinner or to your children for listening to something you told them to do. Try saying thank you for the little things and see the positive effect it has on your life and those around you.
“It’s not easy being grateful all the time. But it’s when you feel least thankful that you are most in need of what gratitude can give you.” ~Oprah Winfrey
13. Use gratitude in tough times. In tough times, it’s harder to see the good amidst our troubles. Practicing gratitude in difficult times can reverse situations because it gives us a new perspective, helping us to see opportunities that we didn’t see before. Robert Emmons, PhD outlines strategies for cultivating thankfulness in his book, Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. He says, in his book, about gratitude’s effects: “We have discovered that a person who experiences gratitude is able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, may show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and may recover more quickly from illness and benefit from greater physical health.” He says that gratitude is one of the few things that can change people’s lives in a measurable way.
14. Thank people for their service. In our daily travels, we come across people who serve us in different ways – waiters, cab drivers, teachers, neighbors, and police officers. This makes for a great opportunity to extend thanks whether it be face-to-face or with a note or gift. You can see in “A Surprise Birthday Gift” video that bus driver Mukhtar Fodelsdag was overwhelmed at the expression of gratitude from the people he serves each day.
15. Be grateful for the routine. Going to work, taking care of our families and homes are all part of the routine and, at times, can be a source of stress, frustration and even complacency. However, it’s a blessing to have things as usual. When the routine gets broken – a loved one has a serious illness, an accident occurs, or all the other circumstances that can put our life into turmoil – then we long for the routine back. Brining ourselves into the present moment helps us to appreciate the ordinary.
16. Begin and end your day with gratitude. This simple practice sets our intention of goodness and abundance at the start and end of the day. We tend to wake up and think about all there is to do and end our days with what we didn’t get to or need to do next. Instead, think about all the good the day can bring and then end of the day thinking about all the good that happened.
17. Count your blessings, literally. Can you write down 20 things you are grateful for in life? 50 things? How about 100? Find a quiet spot and take the challenge of writing down 100 things you feel blessed to have in your life. You can even kick-off your gratitude journal with this list. If you need help finding things to be grateful for, think about what you may be taking for granted like a hot shower, the house you live in, good friends, clean water, your pet, etc. Creating this list of blessings is a powerful exercise because as you write down all that you are grateful for, negative feelings dissolve as happier feelings rise-up.
18. Write positive notes. To help keep the feeling of gratefulness alive and part of your day, write little positive notes and leave them in plain sight. These notes can be gratitude affirmations, or a poem like the Be Thankful poem. You can also leave an inspiring note or gratitude quote for your children, your spouse, and co-worker. Even for strangers you can place a note in a library book, or on a car window shield. Something as small as this gesture can make a huge difference in someone’s day.
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” ~Marianne Williamson
19. Recognize how good things really are. We all have our daily frustrations. Maybe we are unhappy with our job and long for a change, or are in an unfulfilling relationship. These are things within our personal control to change. So many things happen outside of our control like accidents, job loss and health issues. When life is going well, delight in this gift.
20. Celebrate each moment of your life. Expressing gratitude brings us into the moment, making us aware of all there is to celebrate in life. These moments are the ones where we are soaking in a sunrise, sunset or a full moon, and not thinking about anything else except its beauty and how good we feel in that moment. We can have many moments like this, if we let ourselves. As Louis Armstrong sang soulfully, “And I think to myself, What a wonderful world; Yes, I think to myself, What a wonderful world.”