It’s your birthday and your Great Aunt Sue just hand-delivered her annual gift to you at your family party. You smile and say thank you, rip open the paper and find yet another hand-knitted hat to add to your growing collection. You feign surprise and tell your Great Aunt Sue how much you love it and appreciate the gesture.
Even if you don’t have a Great Aunt Sue, there are dozens of moments in life where we may say thank you and not really mean it. Or at least not give the phrase much thought.
There is limitless value in reconsidering the meaning behind those two words (thank you) and reframing our minds to focus on gratitude on a daily basis. In this article, we are going to go over the benefits of remembering to focus on gratitude every day and how to build healthy gratitude-focused habits.
Why Gratitude Matters
Gratitude literally has the ability to rewire our brains. Various scientific studies have produced results that state there is an association between expressing gratitude and our physical and mental wellness. For example, one study had two groups of patients receiving therapy. One group was given writing assignments about expressing gratitude and the other group of patients were assigned basic journaling exercises about their feelings. The group that wrote on gratitude all reported significant improvements on their symptoms as compared to the other group (AANMC).
Gratitude is a simple and effective way to inject positivity into your life. A famous quote by a Jesuit Priest (as cited by author and professor Brene Brown) wisely states, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” This quote is powerful because it turns some of our assumptions on their head. Practicing gratitude, being grateful, saying what we’re thankful for out loud, brings joy into our lives.
In addition to physical and mental wellbeing and living a more joyful, positive life, gratitude can also:
- Enhance empathy and reduce aggression
- Improve sleep health
- Increase self-esteem
- Improve resilience
So, now that we understand gratitude and all the amazing impacts it can have on leading a positive, joyful life – how do we do it? How do we start living a more grateful life? Here are some examples of ways to start small and invite gratitude into your daily life and build healthy habits to focus on gratitude.
How to Be More Grateful - Small Steps that Have a Big Impact
Most of the recommendations for building habits around gratitude are fairly small changes to your existing routine. There will be some overlap in these suggestions, so go through the entire list and see if any of these activities speak to you. As you read through the list below ask yourself questions like,
- Would I enjoy doing this?
- Can I picture myself doing this?
- Do I have time to do this consistently?
- Does this build on any of my existing goals, interests, or talents?
- Do I understand how this may positively impact me?
It may seem basic, but it is anything but! If you love to write or express yourself better through writing than talking, this may be just for you. Journaling is a cathartic exercise that helps us sort through our own thoughts and feelings by translating them from thoughts to written word. The action of writing can be extremely healing, revealing, and therapeutic.
To journal about gratitude, you can do something as simple as writing down 1-3 things you are grateful for each day or as elaborate as writing a story demonstrating the things you are grateful for. Journaling has no boundaries or expectations about doing it ‘right’. As long as you build it into your routine with some consistency (eg: once a day, once a week, etc.) you will see results and have a better understanding of your mental health.
2. Gratitude Jar
This activity is similar to journaling, but a little more structured. If you like to write, but maybe do not have as much time or desire to fill a journal, a gratitude jar is a great alternative! A gratitude jar is a vessel (a mason jar, a bowl, a hat, a box, etc.) that you have in your home (usually labeled with the phrase ‘Gratitude Jar’). You or anyone in your household can grab a slip of paper and write down something they are grateful for.
The gratitude jar is a wonderful way to express gratitude as an individual and as a group (eg: a family or couple). After a determined period of time (a week, a month, etc.) you can empty the gratitude jar and review what was in there. This has two benefits; 1) building in a way for you to be conscientious of what you are grateful for in the moment and 2) reminding yourself (and those around you) what you have been grateful for over a period of time).
3. Gratitude Object
This one is a little different than the previous two. It is more focused on jolting your memory about gratitude when you least expect it. It is fairly simple. Pick an object that is something you can carry with you. Some examples might be a rock, a pin, a piece of jewelry, a feather, a button, etc. Whenever you remember that you have this object on you, use it as a reminder to think of something you are grateful for. It can be something you are grateful for in that moment or just in general.
This activity is a good way to remember gratitude without the formality of carving out time for it each day or each week. You will simply feel your gratitude object in your pocket and spend 5 seconds thinking of something you’re grateful for. Try to do it without getting a huge smile on your face, it’s impossible!
4. Gratitude Walk
Walking is great for your physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, WebMD states that walking “has a positive influence on your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is your central nervous response system. This is good because the HPA axis is responsible for your stress response. When you exercise by walking, you calm your nerves, which can make you feel less stressed.”
A gratitude walk is an intention-focused walk that uses the time in which you walk to focus on gratitude. You can also spend the walk being extremely present and grateful for what is immediately around you. Notice the birds, the trees, the sounds of nature, your ability to walk and breathe and feel at peace, etc. You can also take a gratitude walk with a friend or loved one and use that time to show appreciation for your relationship.
5. Gratitude Prompts
Sometimes we need a little inspiration to get us started, especially in moments of struggles, stress and strain. If you are having trouble getting inspired about focusing on gratitude, this activity is a great way to get out of your slump! A gratitude prompt is a set of questions you simply answer. These questions are designed to make you think about the different aspects of your life you may be grateful for.
Gratitude Prompt Questions:
- Who is one person I am most grateful for today?
- What are three things I can physically do that I am grateful for?
- Name three sounds I am grateful for.
- What is an opportunity I’ve had that I am grateful for?
- What is one thing someone has done for me that I am grateful for?
- Name three things in my home I am grateful for.
- What is a difficult experience that I am grateful I made it through?
- Who has helped me through a difficult time?
- What things am I good at that I am grateful for?
- What skills/qualities do I possess that allow me to help others?
- What has made me feel fulfilled lately?
- Name someone who has made me smile lately.
- What are three things in my surroundings right now that I am grateful for?
- What animals am I grateful for?
- What food am I grateful for?
- What experiences am I grateful I was able to have?
- What am I excited about in my future?
- What am I excited about today?
- What is different today than it was a year ago that I am grateful for?
6. Gratitude Meditation
Meditation is another option to help you focus on gratitude. Meditation is a wonderful tool to help you relax, find peace, quiet your mind, and spend focused time on gratitude. Meditation uses mindfulness and a focused state of mind to train yourself to bring attention and awareness inward to become mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable.
There are many available resources online to guide you through gratitude-focused meditations. Here are a few places to try it out:
- Greater Good In Action – Gratitude Meditation (10 Minutes)
- Feeling Grateful and Full of Gratitude 10 Minute Guided Meditation
- Headspace Gratitude 10 Minute Meditation (free trial version)
- Morning Gratitude Meditation (12 Minutes)
- The Mindfulness Moment – 5 Minute Guided Meditation for Gratitude
- Morning Gratitude Positive Affirmations (8 Minutes)
7. Gratitude Letters
Our last suggestion is an exciting opportunity to share your gratitude for another person in your life. This activity is a relationship building activity that uses gratitude as a lens to view those you care about. Write a letter (or email) to a person you are grateful to have in your life or someone who has done something for you. Be as specific as possible about exactly why you are grateful for – their friendship, love, support, kindness, teachings, etc.
For an added moment of magic, you can hand-deliver the letter to this person and see their reaction as they read it. Use this as an opportunity to build a bond with this person and to let them know what they mean to you. Let them know ahead of time you would like to meet and that you have something to share with them. The experience of seeing the person’s response to your expression of gratitude will be a memorable and meaningful moment.
Keeping Gratitude Top of Mind
We’ve covered what gratitude is, why it is important, and a few strategies and exercises to start implementing it in your daily routine. Like many things in life, consistency is key for seeing the benefits of gratitude. Find a way to express gratitude regularly and try to make it as much a part of your day as eating, brushing your teeth, or taking a shower. Gratitude is an excellent tool to lead a positive and joyful life and a proven approach to improve mental wellness.
If you need some help building gratitude into your routine or finding ways to see gratitude in your life, Positive Presence is here to help. Positive Presence Mentor-Coaches are trained to help teenagers and young adults rediscover their connection to gratitude, positivity, and peace.
Talk to us today about how we can help you keep gratitude top of mind.