I started practicing gratitude when I was coping with some major life changes. Things felt heavy and challenging after the death of my dad, mother-in-law, and marriage in a span of about five years. During all that hardship, I knew how lucky I was to have two amazing little kids and a wonderful support system. I was determined to not lose sight of the joy in my life.
How I Got Started with Gratitude
I began to aim my focus on the good stuff, no matter how small or mundane. Even though I call it a “gratitude practice,” it was never rigid or formal. My goal was to be intentional and consistent, but I started small.
At first, I would simply make time when I got into bed at night to list what I was grateful for — the bright spots of my day. Depending on how the day went, the types of things I listed changed. After all, “bright” is a relative term!
On harder days, I was thankful for the big stuff, like family, friendships, and having shelter. Other days, it was easier to find more beautiful moments: kindness from a stranger, a delicious meal, a long walk, a beautiful sunset, giggly moments with my kids, or a bus driver who waited for me to cross the street so I don’t miss the bus.
This became a way for me to take inventory of the day. Even on the hardest days, it forced me to look for the specks of sunlight…the good stuff.
Other Ways to Practice Gratitude
Taking a mental inventory is one of the simplest ways to practice gratitude. All you need is a quiet moment to yourself.
Here are some other ways to practice gratitude:
- Journal about what you’re grateful for
- Tell someone special to you what you appreciate about them, either in person or by writing a note
- Relish a beautiful moment by digging into the experience (e.g., what do you see, smell, hear, taste, feel?)
- Use a gratitude meditation to guide you through your practice
- Recognize people who help you or make you smile (e.g., submit a complimentary review for a kind or helpful employee in a store)
- Pay more attention to positive news stories rather than negative ones (and, if you are active on social media, think about whether the stories you share add positivity to your friends’ feeds)
- Try to look for life lessons that a mistake or conflict can teach you
- Pay it forward and make someone’s day
If a quiet moment is hard to come by for you, you can also turn some of these ideas into a family activity at dinner or before bed.
3 Healthy Benefits of Gratitude
In the last few decades, there has been more and more scientific research looking at the benefits of gratitude. Here are three of my favorite ways gratitude has changed me.
1. Happier mind and body
Practicing gratitude over time may improve your physical and mental health. Several studies have shown that it may reduce symptoms of depression, improve sleep, lessen aches and pains, and improve heart health. In addition, it’s been shown that practicing gratitude actually changes the way your brain processes things. In my own experience, I feel more content, less stressed, more kind and patient, and less prone to letting the actions of others affect my mood.
2. More focus on what you have
By nature, gratitude is an appreciation for what you have or experience. It fosters feelings of abundance. As a result, you may spend less time focusing on what is missing from your life or what you wish you had. That’s not to say you can’t work towards a goal or want more. It just means that you appreciate where you are and the journey ahead as you move towards your goals. I am less likely to get stuck in feelings of resentment or envy.
3. Stronger connections
By practicing gratitude, you are finding goodness and identifying the source. By nature, the focus of gratitude isn’t to celebrate something you’ve done yourself. Rather, you are recognizing how goodness and gifts from other people and sources have made a difference in your life for the better.
In harder times, gratitude helps me feel less isolated and lonely because it reminds me that I am connected to the people and world around me. It helps me remember that I am supported and not alone. Practicing gratitude also enriches my relationships, as it is easier to forgive and harder to take offense to slight irritations or miscommunications.
Remember: It Is Practice, Not Perfection
It is called a gratitude “practice” for a reason — there is no destination or end. The goal is to keep coming back to it consistently. It will change over time because you will change over time, but there will always be space for more.
Some days will feel harder than others, and you may not always be in the mood. Other times, life might distract you from it altogether…even for long periods of time. But the more you practice, the stronger your gratitude muscle will get. You can always pick it back up.
Also keep in mind that many of the benefits of gratitude build over time. While you can enjoy some rewards right away (for example, an instant mood boost), it may take a little time for the physical and mental health benefits to happen. But if you can carve out a few minutes in your day for gratitude, you will start to see positive changes.