How To Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude makes people happier, increases self-control, builds social ties and more. Discover 15 ways to be more grateful.


Practicing gratitude makes people happier, increases self-control, builds social ties and more. Discover 15 ways to be more grateful.

Gratitude, a positive feeling of thankfulness, is the new miracle emotion.

Although gratitude has been around for as long as human beings, it’s only relatively recently started to get the thumbs-up from science.

So here are 15 ways to maximise your own gratitude, whatever level you start from, followed by 10 ways gratitude can change your life.

How to be grateful

Gratitude is certainly an emotion that’s worth cultivating and it is something that can be cultivated.

Studies have repeatedly shown that we can train things sometimes thought of as hard-wired or pre-set, like our gratitude, optimism and enthusiasm.

So here are 15 things to try…

1. 2-minute exercise

Think of three things that you are grateful for: that benefit you and without which your life would be poorer.

Then, if you’ve got time, you can think about the causes for these good things.

And that’s it.

Read more on this simple gratitude exercise.

2. Keep a gratitude journal

Sit down, daily, and write about the things for which you are grateful.

Start with whatever springs to mind and work from there.

Try not to write the same thing every day but explore your gratefulness.

3. Remember the bad

The way things are now may seem better in the light of bad memories.

Don’t forget the bad things that have happened, the contrast may encourage gratefulness.

4. Ask yourself three questions

Choose someone you know, then first consider what you have received from them, second what you have given to them and thirdly what trouble you have caused them.

This may lead to discovering you owe others more than you thought.

5. Pray

Whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or atheist, a ritualised form of giving thanks may help increase gratitude.

6. Use your senses

80 percent of people say they are thankful for their health.

If so, then get back in touch with the simple human fact of being able to sense what is out there: use your vision, touch, taste and smell to experience the world, and be thankful you can.

7. Use visual reminders

Two big obstacles to being grateful are simply forgetting and failing to be mindful.

So leave a note of some kind reminding you to be grateful.

It could be a post-it, an object in your home or another person to nudge you occasionally.

8. Swear an oath to be more grateful

Promise on whatever you hold holy that you’ll be more grateful.

Sounds crazy?

There’s a study to show it works.

9. Think grateful thoughts

Called ‘automatic thoughts’ or self-talk in cognitive therapy, these are the habitual things we say to ourselves all day long.

What if you said to yourself: “My life is a gift” all day long?

Too cheesy?

OK, what about: “Every day is a surprise”.

10. Be grateful to your enemies

It’ll take a big creative leap to be thankful to the people who you most despise.

But big creative leaps are just the kind of things likely to set off a change in yourself.

Give it a try.

11. Appreciate your partner

Gratitude can work like a kind of glue for your relationship.

Saying thanks for the small things that partners do for each other can work wonders.

It is especially true if they are everyday acts that might often go unnoticed.

Studies suggest men lag behind women in experiencing and expressing gratitude.

Still, both sexes can benefit from making an effort to be thankful for their relationships.

But don’t just think it, say it.

Better still, do something to show it.

12. Credit others with your achievements

We all like to take credit for our own achievements.

But when you think about it, are they really all our own achievements?

Did we not receive a little help along the way from others?

Everyone likes to hear that their advice was helpful or that it was their assistance that helped you over the line.

Don’t be shy. Let them know they helped.

13. The gratitude list

A favourite of psychologists doing studies on gratitude, the list is an easy way to boost the positive emotion of gratitude.

Do it anytime you like, in as much or as little detail as you like.

In fact, no need to write down, just take a moment now to think of one or two things you feel thankful for.

14. Use body language to thank someone

We’ve all given someone a ‘thanks’ that was less than enthusiastic, perhaps bordering on sarcastic.

So, the next time you say grazie, gracias, merci, arigatô or danke, do it with style.

Using body language is the easiest way to boost a thank you up from humdrum to heartening.

Lean in, smile, even use a touch on the upper arm — at least make sure you are looking them in the eye.

Say thank you like you really mean it.

Because, of course, you do, don’t you?

15. The gratitude letter

This is towards the more hardcore end of gratitude.

Try writing a gratitude letter to someone who has never been properly thanked.

(Better that it is an actual letter; a gratitude email doesn’t hit the same high notes.)

Tell them how much you appreciate what they have done for you and how much it means.

They will feel great receiving it (apart from anything else, who gets handwritten letters any more?) and you will feel great sending it.

Repeat and explore

Repeat any, all or none of these exercises at regular intervals.

If it’s none, because they don’t work for you, then invent your own, or reconnect with an existing way of practicing gratefulness which is personal to you.

The more you can keep at it, the more likely it is to become a habit.

Benefits of gratitude

And here are 10 benefits of cultivating gratitude:

1. Gratitude makes you happier

Gratitude is different things to different people: amongst them could be counting your blessings, savouring what life has given you, thanking someone or wondering at the natural world.

Whatever form it takes, one of the best known and most researched effects of practicing gratitude is it makes you happier.

Participants in one study were 25% happier, on average, after practicing a little gratitude over a 10-week period.

2. Grateful people are more satisfied

Gratitude isn’t just about feeling better, it’s also about thinking better.

In other words: it’s not just a fleeting sensation, it can also be a thought that sustains you.

That’s why people who feel more gratitude also feel more satisfied with their lives.

Gratitude better enables people to notice the things they do have, rather than mourning what’s missing.

3. Being grateful motivate others

When we say ‘thank you’ to others, it’s an expression of gratitude, but it can also act as a powerful motivator for them to help us again.

It could be as simple as sending a thank you email when someone has helped you out.

A gratitude study found that a thank you email doubled the number of people willing to help in the future:

“…the effect of ‘thank you’ was quite substantial: while only 32% of participants receiving the neutral email helped with the second letter, when Eric expressed his gratitude, this went up to 66%.”

They also found that:

“…people weren’t providing more help because they felt better or it boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they’d been thanked.”

4. Gratitude reduces materialism

We all need some stuff in our lives, but sometimes the desire for more things can get out of control.

And our nascent desire for stuff is heavily encouraged by society in so many ways.

Gratitude can combat materialism by helping us appreciate what we already have.

As the Greek philosopher Epicurus said:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

By law, all credit cards should have this quote across the front in fluorescent pink.

5. Increase self-control

It’s not true that the emotions tend to get in the way of decision-making; that we should be ‘cold’ and ‘calculating’ to make the right choices.

Quite the reverse: the feeling of gratitude can actually help people make the right decisions.

Professor Ye Li, whose research has established a link between gratitude and self-control explains:

“Showing that emotion can foster self-control and discovering a way to reduce impatience with a simple gratitude exercise opens up tremendous possibilities for reducing a wide range of societal ills from impulse buying and insufficient saving to obesity and smoking.”

It probably works because gratitude makes us feel less selfish, which gives us more patience.

6. Gratitude enriches children

Encouraging gratitude in children can have remarkable effects.

One study found that kids who are more grateful feel life has more meaning, get more satisfaction from life, are happier and experience less negative emotions.

Dr. Giacomo Bono, who led the study, said his findings suggested:

“…that gratitude may be strongly linked with life-skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence and, as such, gratitude is vital resource that parents, teachers and others who work with young people should help youth build up as they grow up.

More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world.”

7. Relationship benefits of being grateful

Being grateful to your partner for all the little kindnesses they do can make all the difference to a relationship.

Research by Dr. Sara Algoe and colleagues, found that gratitude helps to maintain intimate relationships.

Algoe said:

“Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about, and benefit to the one giving as well as the one on the receiving end.”

8. Gratitude builds social ties

Just as very close intimate relationships benefit from gratitude; so do our wider ties to family and friends.

Gratitude has been linked to many positive social outcomes:

  • People who are more grateful report better relationships with their peers.
  • Gratitude enhances people’s ability to form and nurture relationships, as well as boosting how satisfied they are with them.

It really seems that gratitude has the power to deepen our connections with others.

9. Better health and gratitude

Although there’s relatively little research on this, gratitude has been linked to better physical health, especially better sleep, and lower levels of stress.

Given that both stress levels and sleep are related to general physical health, this is not a surprise.

10. Resilience

Given that the world can be a nasty place, filled with nasty surprises, it’s vital to have good coping skills.

People with gratitude tend to have just that.

When faced with challenges in life, they tend to eschew denial, self-blame and substance abuse in favour of active coping, seeking support from others, positive reinterpretation and growth.

Avoid gratitude burnout

Like everything in life, we can get fed up with gratitude after a while if it gets to samey.

Avoid gratitude burnout by remembering that all things must come to an end — enjoy them while you still can.

In one study:

“…being encouraged to think grateful thoughts was not enough to increase happiness.

What made the grateful thoughts beneficial was focusing on the imminent end of this pleasurable experience.

Thinking about endpoints as a way of stimulating gratitude can be beneficial.

Finite ends seem to inspire people to think carefully about what it is they have, because soon enough, and usually sooner than we would like to think, it will be gone.”


Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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