OF COURSE, YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO MAKE IT A LIFESTYLE, like Dr. Emmons, a psychology professor, does. “Asking about my gratitude practice is like asking if I have a breathing or a walking practice. Every moment is an opportunity for gratitude,” he explains. “When I started to live this way, everything changed. I began to see opportunities where I once saw problems and began to see abundance where I once saw deficits. Looking at life through a grateful lens shapes our reality.” If you’re new to being thankful, try these small ways to show thanks.
1. Make a list of what you typically take for granted, suggests Dr. Emmons. Instead of thinking of them as “for granted,” think of them as “as granted,” to remind yourself that most people in the world don’t have as much as we do. Repeat every month or so to make sure you stay on track.
8 Ways to Practice Gratitude Photo Gallery
2. Substitute positive for negative thoughts. “Identify nongrateful thoughts, for example, thinking you deserve better circumstances, that other people are better off…that things have not turned out the way you wanted,” Dr. Emmons says. Instead, reframe using language that expresses thankfulness, like “gifts, givers, receivers, favor, fortune, fortunate, blessed, lucky.” For instance, if someone else gets a promotion you think you deserved, rather than complain, be grateful that you will have more personal time you can devote to friends and family.
3. Try what Dr. Emmons calls the “George Bailey effect,” and imagine how different your life would be if a certain person wasn’t in it, or if a specific event or circumstance had never occurred. When you subtract something good from your life, it triggers feelings of thankfulness for what you have.
4. Create a gratitude board. “I cut out pictures or words of gratitude I feel from magazines or online, and put them all together,” says Pilates teacher Stacy Chang. “This way I can see all the things I’m grateful for and be reminded of how sweet life truly is.”
5. Go back to the basics of manners and kindness, suggests Dr. Karena Wu, a physical therapist. “Taking the time to ask someone how they are doing and actually attend to the person’s answer, saying thank you, holding a door or elevator open, or asking if someone needs help…can have a major impact and help overcome doubt and bring a cohesiveness to our fractured world,” says Dr. Wu. “When we are givers, we reflect more clearly on what it is like to be a receiver,” adds Dr. Emmons. “Also, we are grateful for the opportunity to give, knowing that giving brings happiness to ourself and others.”
6. Write an old-school thank-you note. “There’s something very intimate and powerful about hand-writing a letter to someone,” says Lauren Thompson. “How often do you get a letter or a card in the mail? I’m guessing not very often, but when you do get one, it’s an exciting moment.” It can be someone who’s done something nice for you recently—or someone from your past whom you never had a chance to thank properly. In a 2005 study in American Psychologist, subjects who wrote gratitude letters to people who’d helped them at a key moment in their lives experienced a positive glow for a month afterward.
7. Express gratitude in the a.m. Pilates teacher Melissa Engellard sets the tone for her family’s day by showing them she’s thankful for them. “I used to be stressed and in a hurry most mornings, which wasn’t good for anyone,” she explains. “Now I choose to be grateful for each day, by starting with ‘good morning,’ asking how everyone is, and letting them know I’m happy to see them. Everything is so much smoother now.”
8. Get yourself in nature, recommends life coach Todd Keeley. Observe the beauty around you, and breathe in the gratitude. “Shout, ‘thank you’ aloud toward a lake, river, mountain or tree,” he says. “Be a freak in nature, not a freak of nature.”
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