It’s scientifically proven* to positively affect many areas of our lives, including relationships, sleep, healthy habits (like exercising more), and mood. There’s even some research showing that gratitude reduces physical inflammation.
Plus, it’s stupidly simple to practice: think about the things you’re thankful for—what could be easier?
But because life happens (a traffic jam when you’re already late, a free ride when you already paid, 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife, etc), it’s sometimes impossible to remember.
The key for me has been integrating gratitude into several different aspects of my daily life. Here are five:
Make gratitude a habit
Every time I take a shower, I brush my teeth. Every day I start my coffee, then I make my bed. When I go to bed, I read a book.
Are there things you always do at the same time? These are paired habits. They’re things we always do together. Often they occur naturally, but pairing is one strategy you can use intentionally to build your gratitude habit. Just match your gratitude with a habit that’s already established.
Choose something you already do every day, like putting your contacts in or driving your kids to school. Then, every day when you do that thing, think of three things you’re grateful for.
At first, you may need a reminder to help you (a post-it note on your bathroom mirror or your steering wheel). As you repeat it, it will become a habit and make whatever you’re doing a little sunnier.
Make gratitude a snooze
Racing thoughts can keep you up at night. Especially if you’re thinking:
- Did I lock the front door?
- I have to get up in two hours.
- Do we have milk?
- We could go apple picking on Saturday morning and still get to the afternoon game if we leave early enough.
- I don’t want to get up in two hours.
Try to turn your insomnia into a gratitude practice. It will be more calming on your nerves, and hopefully, lull you back to sleep more quickly.
At four in the morning, I think of my gratitude from the inside out. I think of things I’m thankful for about my body, like my health or mobility. Then, I think of things I’m thankful for in my immediate surroundings, i.e. my dog, my husband, my safe warm bed. Then, I think of things I’m thankful for throughout the rest of my house, like my daughter, my kitchen, a car that runs. I keep going like this in bigger and bigger circles (my neighborhood, my town, my state, etc) until I fall asleep.
Make gratitude a weapon
The other day, as I was about to step into the shower, I caught a glimpse of my naked butt in the mirror. My face immediately assumed the position of the grimacing emoji—the one with the clenched teeth that means OMG how awkward.
Because let’s be real. My 43-year-old jiggle cheeks aren’t going to win any beauty pageants. But then I remembered my gratitude.
That butt means I have plenty (like, plenty) of food to eat. That butt is surrounded by a lovely bathroom in which to wash it and a home to house it. That butt is connected to a healthy (if somewhat generously proportioned) body. Those are things that so many people don’t have. How dare I take those for granted, drowning in my own pathetic ass woes?
Your gratitude is your weapon against negativity, complacency, and apathy. Any time you catch yourself having a negative thought, see if you can fight it with some gratitude.
Make gratitude a race
Because time is more scarce than firm 43-year-old butt cheeks, we can be efficient with our gratitude practice.
At the end of every day, set a timer for two minutes. Write down as many things as you can think of that you’re grateful for that day. They can be small (“chrysanthemums are in bloom”) or big (“I’m alive”) or anywhere in between (“no animals or children crapped on the rug today”).
Read through it right before bed and fall asleep in the glow of thanksgiving.
Make gratitude meta
One of the things we’re truly blessed with in this life is our ability to help others. Whether that means helping your kindergartner tie his shoes, giving your server an extra dollar on her tip, or volunteering your time at the food bank, you can take the time to appreciate what a privilege it is to be of service. Basically, be grateful for the things you do that will make others feel grateful. (Not your kids, obviously. They’re not grateful for much of what moms do. That’s why we have to remind ourselves of these things.)
Instead of writing down five things you’re grateful for every day (which is a lovely practice in itself), write down five contributions you’re grateful you were able to make that day.
Gordon, A. et al (2012, May 28) To Have and to Hold: Gratitude Promotes Relationship Maintenance in Intimate Bonds.
HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review (2013, November 27) The Big Benefits of a Little Thanks.
Mills, P. et al (2015) The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-Being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients.
Rubin, G. (2012) Happier at Home. New York, New York: Crown Archetype.