Research has shown that a daily gratitude practice can lead to lowered rates of depression, improved sleep, less symptoms of illness and decreased stress. Cultivating gratitude is an active, embodied practice. It is always evolving and requires intentionality.
Below are some practices to help you get started.
This is a great one for beginners as it offers accountability and connection. Chose an accountability partner to engage in your gratitude practice. Each day, call or text this person 5 things you are grateful for in your life. Ask this person to text you back 5 things they are grateful for in life. You can use the alphabet as well for inspiration, texting five things that start with the letter “A” on the first day, 5 things that start with the letter “B” on the second day, and so on. It might be fun to create a collage with all of your daily gratitudes once you have completed the alphabet.
At the same time each day, take a walk outside with the intention of spending 5 to 10 minutes focused on gratitude. Utilize all 5 of your senses to explore your surroundings while cultivating gratitude. You may notice the beautiful colors of a flower, enjoy the smell of the fresh grass, feel the soft breeze on your face or hear the sounds of a neighbor laughing. Use this time to be present with your environment and notice all of the simple things that bring you joy. When you return home, record the items you are grateful for in your gratitude journal along with some words about how you felt on your walk.
Each day, chose a different person to receive your gratitude. You could make a card or letter for a loved one and mail it, sharing why you are grateful to know them. You could record a video for a friend and send your gratitude that way. You could reach out to a colleague via phone/text and let them know how they have impacted your life. You could post a gratitude for health care workers on your social media page offering encouragement for all of their hard work. You could make it a family event and have your children make a card for a family member each day sharing what they love about that person.
Schedule a time each night to meet with your family for a dedicated gratitude circle. Go around the room and have each member share 5 gratitudes for the day. You could record them on a list and hang them on the refrigerator the next morning as an uplifting way to start each day. You could also go around the room and have each family member say something they are grateful for about the person to the right. Switch up the seating each night so everyone gets a turn to share about someone new. Remember to journal a few notes after your practice so you can reflect on the impact of the practice.
You might choose to focus solely on journaling as a gratitude practice. If so, chose the same time each day to spend 10 minutes writing in your journal and reflecting on gratitude. You may want to choose a different topic for each entry. Some topics may include: best parts of the day, people for whom you are grateful, things you are learning during this time, acts of kindness that were witnessed throughout the day, things you really like about yourself, etc. Elaborate in detail about the few items you choose to list instead of trying to list as many as possible. Reflect on what your life would be without these certain blessings to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. The key here is quality over quantity.
If you find yourself ruminating on negative thoughts or fears about the future, this might be a good one for you. Try to notice your thoughts during a period of stillness at the start of your day. Write down each of your negative thoughts in your gratitude journal. For each unhelpful thought, choose to record three more helpful thoughts as alternatives.
For example: Unhelpful thought - “I am worried I may lose my job.”
Replace with three helpful thoughts of gratitude: “I still have my job today.” “I have many other skills I can utilize if I lose my job.” “I have a safe home and food to eat today.”
This one is great to do with an intimate partner. Sit across from your partner and offer eye contact if you are able. This one may be difficult at first as intimacy and accepting positive feedback can often be triggering to those with history of trauma. If the exercise is too intense, you could try sitting back to back or using another option from the list instead. If you choose this option, one partner will start by sharing their appreciation for the other: “I really appreciate how you helped with the dishes tonight.” The other partner responds with “I hear that you really appreciate how I helped with the dishes tonight, thank you for sharing.” Then it’s that person’s turn to share an appreciation in the same manner. Set a timer and go back and forth for five minutes offering and receiving appreciations for one another. Take time to reflect in your gratitude journal after about how you felt during the activity.
If you are new to meditation, this option may be challenging at first as it requires stillness and a connection to the body. It might be helpful to start with another option before moving towards meditation. If you do select this option, sit quietly for 10 minutes in a comfortable position. Focus your meditation on gratitude for all that may occur in this still state. Cultivate gratitude for every in breath and out breath, for every distraction or sound. Offer gratitude for every aimless thought and anything else you observe. The ability to sit and notice without judgment is a gift in itself. You could also choose a gratitude body scan if you are familiar with this practice. As you move your attention through the body, offer gratitude for every part and acknowledges how that body part serves you.
If you are having a difficult time cultivating gratitude, this may be a great place to start. Throughout the day, jot down things you hear others say that reflect gratitude or actions from others that make you think of gratitude. You may hear someone mention they are grateful for a new job or for getting to spend time with their child. You may see someone thank another person for their hard work. Jot it down. Review your list of gratitudes at the end of the each day. Take moment to reflect on how you feel in your body when you are reviewing them. Reflect on what you noticed about other people's facial expressions or body movements when they shared their gratitude out loud. Becoming aware of gratitude and noticing others gratitude can help you cultivate your own practice.