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20 Ways to Be Grateful

I work as an engineer, and I recently returned to the office after a one-week break.

I checked my e-mail inbox: 100 unread e-mails. A sense of dread washed over me. “There goes the next four hours of my life responding to e-mails,” I thought.

Reading those 100 e-mails made me sad. Not one of them was written with the intention of expressing gratitude or encouragement! All of them were focused on customer complaints that needed to be addressed and problems that needed to be fixed.

Even if the e-mail contained a “thanks,” it was written as “tks.” Am I not worth the one extra second it would have taken to spell out “thanks” in full?

Of course, one possibility is that I don’t produce any good work at all, so there’s no reason for anyone to thank me. But I’d like to think that’s not the case.

After talking to my co-workers, I realized that I’m not the only one who feels like I receive far too few e-mails that are positive and encouraging.

But if negative e-mails are all I get, someone has to be sending them, right? Someone needs to send an e-mail in order for someone else to receive it. So if I wanted to read more positive e-mails, I first needed to ask myself: Do I send e-mails to thank and encourage other people?

I’m embarrassed to admit that the honest answer is “Not nearly often enough.”

This is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. But I’m happy to say that I’ve since made a strong commitment to change that.

Being Grateful Isn’t Natural

Going out of our way to show appreciation isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. It’s much easier to complain about people who upset us, who don’t follow through on their promises, or who behave irresponsibly.

It’s completely natural for us to focus on our frustrations and problems, instead of on what we have to be grateful for.

But hey, if we only did what came naturally to us, we’d spend all of our time watching TV, reading trashy magazines and eating fast food. This, I’m sure, is not how you aspire to live.

If you want to find real and lasting happiness, you’ll have to do many things that aren’t “natural.” One of those things is being grateful. Not just kind of grateful or pretty grateful. I’m talking about being extravagantly grateful.

We need to turn gratitude into a lifestyle.

I’m not merely referring to the e-mails you send. I’m referring to the way you view life. Once you decide that life is full of abundance, you’ll begin to see that there’s a lot for you to be thankful for.

If you’re serious about making gratitude a lifestyle, I have some ideas to help you out. Here’s a list of 20 things you can start doing today to express your gratitude and to become a more appreciative person:

1. Say it in person

It’s usually best to say “thank you” in person. Do it in private often, and do it in public even more often. There’s no better way to make someone feel appreciated than to say “thank you” publicly.

2. Call

In this day and age when we’re so connected, let’s make use of this connectedness to appreciate someone, especially if you’re miles apart.

3. Write a note

If, for some reason, it’s not appropriate to say “thank you” in person or over the phone, handwritten notes are a good alternative. They might seem old-fashioned, but they’re still an effective way to show your sincerity.

When I was in college, I wrote a thank-you note to a professor who had shown exceptional dedication to teaching. I thought I was making his day by giving him the note, but his e-mail reply two days later made my day:

Daniel, I wanted to thank you for your note. Although we are all paid to do a job, the reality is that we should be motivated by internal goals, and the positive feedback from you (in particular) means a great deal to me.”

4. Send a text

If you don’t have time to write a note, at least send a text message. It won’t take you more than a couple of minutes.

5. Write an e-mail

Use e-mail to compliment your co-worker on a job well done, to thank your friend for being a blessing to you, or to tell a former teacher how he or she has inspired you.

You’ll probably receive some kind words in return, too.

6. Give the person a hug

A hug is a great way to express your thanks. Almost everyone appreciates a sincere hug!

7. Write a poem

It doesn’t have to be long, and it definitely doesn’t have to be of Shakespearean quality. The other person will be touched by your thoughtfulness.

8. Buy a gift

It doesn’t have to be expensive, just something to show that you’re thinking about them. Even something simple, like a book or a souvenir, says a lot.

9. Buy the person dinner

This is a gesture that communicates a great depth of friendship and genuineness. If you’re a good cook, making dinner is an even better option.

10. Surprise the person

Don’t do anything stalker-ish, but if the person is a close friend, pay a surprise visit to his or her house to express your gratitude. If you want to do something more over-the-top, you can even throw a surprise party.

11. Record a video

Record a video, post it on YouTube, and send the link to the person.

12. Create a music compilation

Put together a compilation of the person’s favorite music.

13. Bake cookies

Or a cake. Everyone loves baked goods because they’re yummy, and because a lot of effort and love goes into making them.

14. Make some kind of art

You can make a picture frame, photo collage, or even some kind of painting or pottery. It’s an inexpensive way to make someone feel important.

15. Give them an imaginary award

Give the person a made-up award like “Mom of the Year,” “Most Cheerful Administrative Assistant in the World” or “The World’s Most Thoughtful Son.” Slightly cheesy but very meaningful!

16. Sing praises to someone close to the person

If you want to appreciate your friend, Marianne, tell Marianne’s mom how thoughtful and caring Marianne is. The word will definitely get around.

People who care about you deeply will be proud to hear about how you’re impacting the lives of others. In the example above, you can be sure that both Marianne and her mom will feel special.

17. Leave an online comment

As someone who reads more than 40 blogs regularly, I know it’s easy to read a good post and then immediately move on to something else that interests you.

Even if you don’t know the blogger personally, leave a comment if you enjoyed the post. Bloggers, myself included, read every comment they receive. They greatly appreciate it even when strangers compliment them.

It’s challenging to consistently produce good content, so bloggers are thankful for all the positive feedback they get.

18. Tweet it

Thank a blogger using Twitter. If you achieved good results after following a blogger’s advice, tweet him or her about it. If your thinking has been challenged through reading a post, let the blogger know.

Also, a retweet is a sure way to make a blogger feel honored.

19. Blog about it

Complimenting or thanking someone in such a public forum is a fantastic way to show your appreciation. Do an interview with the person and publish the transcript, or write a post about how he or she has made a difference in your life.

20. Keep a journal

Keep a journal where you write down at least one thing you’re thankful for every day. Doing this is scientifically proven to make you happier. (Check out this paper: Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-being in Daily Life by Emmons and McCullough.)

In addition, when you feel more grateful, you’re more likely to express that gratitude freely.

~ ~ ~

Let’s make the world we live in a happier place—one day at a time, one “thank you” at a time.

* What can you do in the next few hours to express gratitude for someone? What are some things you’ve done to show someone that you are grateful and how did they respond? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments section.

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About the author

Daniel Wong is a recent college graduate who currently works as an engineer. He is passionate about helping young adults to maximize their education, career and life. He is the author of The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success, which will be published by Morgan James Publishing by early 2012. You can read his blog at Living Large and find him on Twitter.

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