10 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Those of us who celebrate Thanksgiving, all have our own special traditions.  One of the most common traditions many of us share is taking turns around the table saying what we're thankful for.  It's so important to take some time to reflect and express gratitude for the life you live.

This month on Discarded Anxiety, we've been discussing gratitude.  We talked about the benefits of gratitude, and even shared a story about expressing gratitude during a tragedy.

Today's post is a short curated list of 10 ways for you to cultivate gratitude.  My hope is that you'll find one or two things you'll add to your life, to increase your expression of gratitude daily.

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal is the most popular way to practice gratitude.

What you'll need:  A journal or notebook and a good pen.  It is recommended to put actual pen to paper for this exercise as the physical act of writing is a therapeutic part of the process.

How it works:  If you purchase a gratitude journal, it will have regular prompts to guide your thoughts on what to write each day.

However, you do not need to purchase a special journal, you can create your own gratitude journal by simply taking the time every day to write down something that you're genuinely grateful for.  You can write as much or as little as you like, but make sure you write something you're grateful for every day.

Further Reading: Not sold on the power of a gratitude journal?  Here's an article from Oprah... yep, that Oprah, and her practice of gratitude journaling.

Journal Recommendations: The Five-Minute Journal

2. Write a Thank-You Note

A great way to increase your own happiness, strengthen a relationship, or brighten someone's day is by writing a thank-you note sharing your gratitude and appreciation for them.

What you'll need:  Pen, paper, envelope, stamps (if you plan on mailing the letters). You can also use thank you cards with a hand written expression inside.

How it works:  Think about who you want to thank and why.  Then sit down and write them a heartfelt note thanking them for what they did, and how it blessed your life.  Let that person know that you are grateful for having them in your life.

Many people write letters to parents, grandparents, other special family members, teachers, coaches, and friends.  You can mail, hand deliver, or read these letters to the recipients.

Further Reading: 11 Amazing Thank You Notes from Famous People

3. Think About Thanking Someone

Amazingly, just pondering how you would thank someone is very beneficial and a great practice for gratitude.  It's a part of positive thinking.

What you'll need: Just the time and space to think.

How it works: While on a walk or sitting quietly without distractions, get someone  in mind that you'd like to thank.  Think about the kind act that they did for you.  Now think about actually thanking that person.

What would you say?

How would you say it?

What kind of response do you think the recipient will have?

Thinking about your expression of gratitude and the positive response the recipient would have, can help you to remember to say thank you every time the opportunity presents itself.  It will also help you to realize just how much you have to be thankful for.

Further Reading: The Extraordinary Scientific Proof that Positive Thinking Works

4. Count Your Blessings

When my family got our first answering machine (just like voicemail for those of you who may be too young to remember answering machines), my dad recorded the message that callers would hear.  At the end of the message he said:
"And remember, there are blessings all around us."

This would cause callers to often thank my dad for reminding them of the blessings in their life that they were overlooking.  In other words, it caused the callers to stop, and even if only for a brief moment, count their blessings.

What you'll need: Just the time and space to think.  Maybe a notebook and a pen if you want to make a list of blessings.

How it works: Carve out some alone time, either on a walk or sitting quietly somewhere, and start to list our all the blessings you have.  For each item you think about, sit with it for a while and really consider how blessed you are to have the things that you have.

You can list out things like: A roof over your head, loving parents, or one true friend.  You can also consider broader blessings that perhaps you may not consider at first.  Things like: freedom of religion, the ability to stand and walk, or the fact that you're still alive when someone else your age didn't make it.

Take some time to find those blessings,  they truly are all around you.

Further Reading: Count Your Blessings… 3 Steps for Balancing Your Happiness

5. Say a Prayer of Thanks

Growing up as a preacher's kid, I learned the importance and power of prayer very early in life.  My parents taught me my very first prayer of thanks.  We used to say it before we would eat our meals.
Thank you Lord for this food.
In Jesus name,

It was a simple prayer, but it helped us to remember to be grateful for whatever food we had.

But a prayer of thanksgiving isn't only said over food.

You can give thanks through prayer for anything that you're grateful for.  You can say a prayer of thanks for relationships, opportunities, or even experiences.

What you'll need:
Just the time and place to think.  Even just a few seconds alone is enough.

How it works:
Saying a prayer of thanks is pretty simple.  You're just telling God or your higher power that you're grateful for whatever you for the things you're thankful for.
Here's a simple script you can adapt to fit your own style of prayer:

Dear God,
Thank you for another day.  
Thank you for this opportunity to acknowledge the blessings all around me.  
I just wanted to say that I'm truly grateful for _________________.  
Thank you again for this blessing.  

As you're praying, be mindful of the things you're expressing gratitude about.  Don't just go through the motions.  Do this every day and you'll start to see the difference even a very simple prayer can make in your life.

Further Reading: Six Beautiful Prayers of Gratitude

6. Meditate

According to Psychology Today, meditation is the act of focusing your attention to a single point of reference while turning your attention away from all other distracting thoughts.

There are many different methods of meditations.  One method that seems to correspond well with gratitude is Mindfulness Meditation.

Here's what Karen Kissel Wegela Ph.D., says about Mindfulness Meditation:

"Mindfulness meditation is unique in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are. Instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is."

Cultivating gratitude requires that we become more aware of the things we should be grateful for.  Mindfulness meditation is a practice that can help you become more aware of those moments.

What you'll need: A calm distraction free space to sit comfortably.

How it works: First, it's imperative to state there is no right or wrong way to meditate.  There are some common themes, but however you decide to do it, is right.  Here are just a few things to help guide you and you continue to practice meditating:

  1. Don't worry about a specific amount of time.  Do your best to stay gently focused on your breath and your one specific thought.  Try it out for 30 seconds to a minute and build from there.
  2. When you mind wanders, and it will do your best to gently bring it back to your specific thought.
  3. Pay attention to what happens as you try to sit quietly.  Notice the thoughts that run through your head.  If this is your first time, I'm willing to bet your thoughts will be very random, and that's OK.  Just pay attention to what happens.
  4. Keep trying.  Meditation isn't a skill that's learned in a day or a weekend.  It's something that you will improve upon over time.
Recommendation: If you want to practice meditation in it's simplist form, try Headspace for free.

7. Teach Gratitude to Children

At 5 or 6 years old, my dad would go around to all the older women at church after the morning service.  He would smile at them and give them hugs.  In return they would give him loose change. He'd get a nickel here or a dime there.  At the end of the day he would be able to go to the candy store and get whatever he wanted.

But occasionally he would make one fatal mistake.

After he collected all his money, he would tell his mother how much money he had made that day.  The very first thing she would say to him was, "Did you say thank you?"

If he had, she'd let him keep the change and go to the store.

But if he hadn't said thank you, she would make him give it all back.

One of the most important things you can teach a child is to be grateful.  Learning about gratitude early on in life, will help that child gain a stronger understanding of the world around him or her, and to be better adjusted to others.  Below is just one way, you can help your child learn about gratitude.  Review the attached article for even more tips.

What you'll need:
A child (obviously), crayons, markers, pencils, paper, and some creativity.

How it Works:
 With the Holiday's coming up, now is a great time to help your child learn to say thank you.  It's very possible that your child may get a gift this season, that he or she is not very excited about (I hated getting clothes as a kid).

Instead of scolding them for not being more grateful, inspire them to create a thank you card or picture for each person who gave them a gift.

While they are creating their thank you's, explain to them that it's always nice to tell someone thank you, especially to someone who does something they didn't have to do for you.

Further Reading: 20 Ways to Teach Kids Gratitude from Tots to Teens

8. Reflect on Your Past

To be grateful for how things are today, it's important to remember where you came from and reflect on some of the struggles that you've overcome.

I'm willing to bet that you have a few stories in your past where you made a poor decision and at the time, you were certain that your life was over.

But obviously, you're still here.  You made it through that tough situation and now have the opportunity to look back at it and see how far you've come.

What you'll need: Just the time and place to think.

How it works: As you're sitting or walking (I think better when I'm in motion), think about the last time things weren't working out.  Think about the steps leading up to your decision to do something that didn't turn out the way you expected.

How did you get out of that situation?

What did you learn during and after that process?

Allow yourself to accept that even though things didn't work out the way you planned, they worked out well enough for you to survive.  The new skills and ability that you gained from going through that situation, is definitely something to be grateful for.

Further Reading: Learning From Your Mistakes 

9. Take Pictures

Earlier this year, my mother, wife, and I had the opportunity to take my dad on a trip of a lifetime.  We went to Pebble Beach to play golf at three of the best golf courses in the United States.  It was a wonderful trip, but I do have one regret.

I didn't get a picture of me and dad together.

We took hundreds of pictures of the scenery the wildlife, and the golf course.  But we didn't get one specifically of the two of us.  Sure we will always have the memories and the rest of the pictures, but that missing one still bothers me.

Visual reminders can help you recall people, places, and experiences that you want to remember and reflect on.  So learn from my mistake and take pictures, even one's you don't think you'll want or need, you'll appreciate it later.

What you'll need: Honestly the camera on your cell phone is more than enough.

How it works: If you're having a great time doing whatever it is you're doing, do you best to capture it in a photo.

Get one of the people you're with, it will help you remember the conversations and stories of that day.  Get one of where you are, inevitable you'll forget the name of the place.  This way you'll always have a point of reference.  Finally get a picture of anything that you found funny, touching, or inspiring.

Whenever you decide to look at these pictures, you'll be filled with the same joy you had that day.  Especially when looking at the photo's that don't seem to make sense.  Sometimes those are the best ones.

Further Viewing: Husband Captures Every Moment of His Wife's Pregnancy on Camera

10. Don't Complain for 24 Hours

So this one is challenging but definitely possible.

What you'll need: 24 hours and the awareness of your thoughts, actions, and words.

How it works: Your goal is to go throughout the entire day from the time you wake until the time you go back to bed without making any complaints.  At first, this may seem easy, but it goes a little deeper than you might think.

We all have our complaints and pet peeves that drive us crazy.  A lot of our responses are automatic now because we've been practicing our complaints for years.

Additionally, we don't always complain with our words.  Our body language and thoughts can express complaints too.

So undertaking this task will require you to not only watch what you say, but to pay attention to how you say things, your body language expression, and your thoughts.

If you find yourself complaining, do your best to recognize it and turn your complaint into a positive and something you can be grateful for.

For example, Here in Michigan, it snows a lot and it really bothers me when people don't clean off their entire car after it snows.  People clean off the windows but ignore the roof, hood, and trunk.

As a result, if you're driving behind this car, big chunks of snow and ice can fly off of the car and onto yours obstructing your vision, and (if the ice chunks are large enough) cause damage to your car.  I probably complain about this every time it snows, I'm sure my wife will testify to that.

So what can I do to make sure I don't complain?

I can take a deep breath and change lanes.  I can slow down and not drive so close to the car in front of me.  I can tell myself a story that the person cleaning off the car didn't have gloves or an ice scraper and did the best they could.  I can be thankful for another lane option.  I can be thankful for the opportunity to slow down and be safe.  I can be grateful for the person's effort  to at least make sure they could see.

While these options don't seem like much, simply thinking about them, will cause my mind to shift from complaining to recognizing the little things around me that are working in your favor.  Eventually, I'll learn to be grateful for those little things.

Further Reading: A Radical Experiment: 24 Hours of No Complaining

 So there you have it, 10 great ways for you to cultivate more gratitude in your life.  I hope one or two of these methods finds their way into your regular routine.

Next Action Steps

Review the list above and select one method to add to your regular routine.  In the comments below, share which method you're going to start using and why.  If you're already using one of these methods, share in the comments how practicing that method of gratitude has helped or hurt you.  I look forward to reading your comments.

For example: For the next 24 hours I'm not going to complain.  I hope to add 2-3 days of no complaining into my regular weekly routine.


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