5 Unique Ways to Practice the Art of Gratitude
Written By: Matt Mignona
There's a reason you keep hearing this: gratitude can and will change your life, but it goes far beyond saying "thank you" when someone holds the door. Dictionary.com tells us gratitude is "the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful." Quality indicates that gratitude can be something permanent within you, not just a passing feeling.
Robert Emmons, the world's top gratitude expert, offers a more thorough definition:
"First, it's an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we've received.... The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you're of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives."
Let's take a closer look at gratitude and why you need it in your life.
The Stages of Gratitude
Depending on what you read, there are two, three, or even up to six stages of gratitude, and those stages get defined a little bit differently from source to source. This is basically how the three stages tend to get broken down:
- Stage 1: A feeling of gratitude for a bit of good fortune. Your friend gives you a surprise gift, and you feel thankful. The sun is shining, and you're grateful for the opportunity to walk your dog in the park. You have a health scare, but the test results are clear. At this stage, we tend to forget our good moments as soon as something negative or challenging happens. We take the sun for granted if it shines for a few days in a row.
- Stage 2: A conscious decision to notice the things you're grateful for—and to speak up about them. You write your friend a thank you note for the gift. You keep a gratitude journal so you can practice looking for the good things in your life and acknowledging their presence.
- Stage 3: Gratitude starts changing your life. You feel less judgmental and more accepting toward others. Your natural response toward life is one of gratitude. Even when things get challenging, you're able to learn from those moments. You're grateful for the opportunity to live each day, no matter what it brings. If you are a spiritual or religious person, this stage brings connection with the creator and the idea that you are provided for in a variety of ways.
Why Be Grateful?
It feels better, for one thing. But living life with gratitude also comes with a lot of scientifically proven benefits like these:
- Improved Physical and Mental Health
- More Happiness
- Better Relationships
- Less Aggression and More Empathy Toward Others
- Improved Sleep
- Improved Self-Esteem
- Greater Resilience
- Reduced Anxiety
Research continues to show that people who live with gratitude are more optimistic and satisfied with their lives. They feel more positive toward their partners. Employees who feel their work is appreciated are more likely to work hard.
How to Practice the Art of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude changes your brain, but those changes take time. You can't jump from Stage 1 to Stage 3 with one thank you note. It will take some time to practice your grateful mindset, but the good news is the process is simple and enjoyable. Simply commit to some of these gratitude practices and watch as your life shifts over the coming weeks, months, and years.
- Savoring Walk: Schedule a short walk into your day, during which you actively notice everything around you that pleases you: the warmth of the sun, a cool breeze, the sound of the birds, a playful dog, unique architecture, a flower popping up through a crack in the sidewalk, etc. Vary your path from day to day so you have the opportunity to notice different positive sights, smells, and sounds.
- Meditate: There are countless ways to meditate, and one of those is to spend the time focusing on what you're grateful for.
- Mental Subtraction of Positive Events: Think about a positive event in your life (meeting your spouse, having a baby, getting a promotion, etc.) and write down everything that had to happen and all the decisions you had to make for that event to occur the way it did. Notice that if any one of those things had gone differently, that event might not have happened. Consider what your life would be like without it. Refocus on the present and how your life is better because of that event—with gratitude for everything that transpired to make it so.
- Gratitude Journal: This is the practice of writing down a few things you're thankful for every day. It creates a record of special moments you can read when you're having a rough day, and it teaches you to identify the good parts of your life, no matter what else is going on. The Happier Mind Journal features a spot to write down three things you're grateful for every day; if you want to go more in depth with your gratitude journal, download our Gratitude Log.
- Give Something Up: Indulge in a favorite food or activity, then give it up completely for a week. When you return to it, pay special attention to how it makes you feel and how much you enjoy it.
Like exercise, healthy eating, or brushing your teeth, you can choose to make gratitude a part of your life. The decision to become mindful about your gratitude practice already brings you to Stage 2. With time and consistent practice, you'll enter Stage 3—and once you're there, it's hard to leave. At that point, gratitude shapes your daily life, and you live with greater awareness, appreciation, and peace.
It starts today, with a simple decision and a small first step: every day, write down three things you're thankful for. Take note of something that happened today that made you especially proud or happy. Go get your journal and start now! Watch that list grow—and your gratitude along with it.