How to Start a Daily Gratitude Practice

How to Start a Daily Gratitude Practice

We all feel grateful from time to time, but the negativity of mainstream and sometimes social media, the divisiveness of politics, and human beings’ natural negativity bias can begin to blunt our gratitude over time. Often, the more we get into a cycle of complaining, the less likely we are to feel or express everything we’re grateful for. The good news is that just like visualization, positive self-talk, and confidence, gratitude is a mental skill that you can practice and get better at over time. Here are a few ways to get and keep an attitude of gratitude.

1) Write a Nightly Gratitude List

It’s harder to be thankful if you don’t know why you are. We’re all experts at griping and groaning about this situation or that problem, but not so much with zeroing in on who and what we want to celebrate. To start turning the tide, take a couple of minutes each evening to state what you’re grateful for. You could write it down (this is gratitude journaling) or verbalize it to someone else. This might begin with you, but you could expand it to include your family or a group of friends. It may seem hokey or weird at first, but after a while, it’s likely that you’ll come to enjoy sharing two or three things you’re thankful for.

You could amplify your gratitude practice by thinking of something to be thankful for each morning as well. Maybe it’s the aroma or taste of a new espresso blend, the bright blue sky outside, or the playlist you fire up in your car to ease your morning commute. Perhaps that drive is briefer than normal, so you’re thankful for that too. Then the meeting you were secretly dreading goes smoothly, making you even more grateful. This is just one example of how easily gratitude can spread throughout your day. And it all starts with becoming more aware of yourself and the people and situations around you.

2) Find Blackberry Moments

In his brilliant book Unscripted, Emmy-winning broadcaster and Inside the NBA host Ernie Johnson describes a pivotal life story that unfolded when he was an eight-year-old playing Little League. During the game, someone clobbered the ball for a home run. As it sailed over the fence, two kids ran after the ball. Their teammates, opponents, and coaches were puzzled when they didn’t return. Johnson and a couple of others went to see what had happened, and found their buddies eating blackberries they’d found growing wild by the field. So Johnson and the others joined in before returning to finish the inning. From that moment on, he sought out similarly sweet and unexpected experiences and resolved to celebrate them.

Whether you’re a fruit lover or not, you can probably see parallels to other things in your own life. Maybe it’s the kind email your boss sent you after you aced a big project. Perhaps it’s the surprise gift your significant other gave you. We’re often too focused with ploughing through our to-do lists that we finish one task and immediately move on to the next. While there are times to crank at full speed, try slowing down occasionally, savor your own blackberry moments, and be grateful for them.

3) Pay Attention to the Details

Many of us are all about the big picture, driving relentlessly onward toward big, ambitious goals. This can be great in some ways, but gratitude often gets blurred out of the picture. While large milestones are important in their own right, you’d also do well to acknowledge the little wins you accumulate along the way. It might not feel like much to go one second quicker in a training interval or lift another 10 pounds, but over time, these incremental improvements are what will add up to major achievements.

So as you move through the day, try to be mindful of seemingly insignificant signs of growth, development, or progress. Also remember that gratitude isn’t all about you. What kind thing did your son or daughter say to you this morning before you left for work? Who on your softball team put their heart and soul into tonight’s game? Which work colleague busted their butt to help out with that important client presentation? Make an extra effort to recognize and be grateful for such things. Not that you need reciprocation, but you’ll find that if you take an extra minute or two to express your thanks, those around you will start to do likewise, creating a culture of gratitude.

4) Act on Your Gratitude

It’s not enough to merely be thankful for someone’s contribution to your life – you need to close the loop and let them know what they mean to you. Digital is the simplest way to do this, but as we all get too many texts, emails, and DMs these days, you might want to consider going old school. When was the last time you received a thank you card? It’s probably been a while. But if you can recall opening that envelope and pulling out the nice handwritten note inside, I bet you felt pretty darn good in that moment. So go out (or onto Etsy, home of all great greeting cards), pick a design you like, and buy 50 or 100 thank you cards and matching envelopes, followed by some stamps. Then get busy expressing your thanks and appreciation.

Once you’ve got everything together, don’t just be proactive about sending thank you notes from now on. Also go back and send a note to acknowledge recent gifts or acts of kindness. It might seem like you’ve missed the boat if you’re weeks or months behind doing so, but in reality, it’s never too late to express gratitude and brighten someone else’s day.