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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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64 thoughts on 20 Ways to Be Grateful

  1. carrie gilbraith

    Love this! Thanks so much for sending out such an inspirational message!

  2. Great Article. It takes effort to be greatful.

    One thing i’ve been seeing lately is that i’m lucky for everything. It’s easy to take things for granted, and we don’t know how lucky we have until it’s gone.

    The truth is, nobody is obligated to give to us or love us, yet they choose to. Seeing the greatfulness that others give opens me up to see that a lot of people have done a lot for me. They didn’t have to, but they did.

    I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that i can keep myself in balance, and appreciate that which is truly a gift. Turning on the tap of self love involves appreciating that others do love us… and that in turn fills us up, filling our self love pool to the brim.

    Then, we’re free to give away all the excess love we have spare, creating a true win / win situation.

  3. Jo

    This was literally the 3rd article about the importance of gratitude that came to me in a one hour period today. Clearly, the Universe is trying to send me a very important message. Thank you for being such an eloquent and convincing messenger. I promise I’m paying attention. Practicing daily gratitude is now one of my New Year’s restrooms.

  4. Mo

    Thank you, Daniel…for the reminder, and inspiration.

  5. Hi Carrie, thanks for the kind words!

  6. Hey Anthony, I appreciate your sincere sharing. It sounds like you’re a really reflective person who’s gained a lot of perspective on life.

    I completely agree with you that nobody is obligated to love us, so the fact that people close to us still do is definitely something to be grateful for.

    Thanks for the reminder that there’s so much beauty in life that we ought to embrace on a daily basis. :)

  7. Nice – a practical list of fun and serious ways to show gratitude…I know even just a simple ‘thanks Fifi’ makes me glow and I try to always remember to say thanks, but sometimes you should do more for true!

  8. Thank you for telling me the million ways to be grateful. I always thought of gratitude as a private spiritual practice but this is a great way of showing it extends out into the world.

  9. MarkS

    This is a perfect message for this time of the year, between Thanksgiving and the New Years, it the holidays remind us about being grateful, giving generously to others that matter to us (not necessarily material things, but giving ourselves to others, and thinking about how we’re going to live a 2012 that is better than 2011.)

    Nice job Daniel.

    I’m an engineer myself, but I do a fair amount of customer service.

    People call looking for a solution to their problem, but often you get the customer that isn’t happy about something and they seem to believe that the best way to get your cooperation and have their problem resolved is is to come across as an irate, demanding person.

    I usually do my best to let their anger fly right past me and I let them know that we’re going to solve their problem for them. Usually once they hear that, they calm their butts down and become more polite and reasonable. If it’s something that I, or my company, screwed up, I will admit that right up front. Now they even become somewhat empathetic… hey, who hasn’t screwed up things once in a while…

    By the time that I’m done fixing their problem and telling the the steps to how It’s going to be resolved, they are expressing their gratefulness.

    I’ve had coworkers say, “Holy crap! That guy was nuts, but you turned him around and now he’s saying he’s going to tell his friends about our great service.”

    I’ve even had previously angry customers write me emails later to say, “Wow. I’m sorry that I was such a jerk. I really do appreciate how you helped me out today and I’m embarrased that I came of so angry and testy with your company. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to get good service from your company and assumed that I was going to have to put up a fight.”

    Don’t let the meanies get you down. You have the power to convert them into happy people, and somehow in the process of doing so, you end up feeling pretty good about your job and dealing with a mailbox of “problems”.

    Again, thanks for sharing and for the suggestions about how to say thanks to people in a meaningful way.

  10. This was exactly what I needed to read today. Sometimes it’s the little gestures that can turn a day around completely… and expressing gratitude in small ways can be so easy as long as we’re thinking about actually doing it!

  11. sonal

    Thank u for such an inspirational article . Today i followed few steps . I made 3 hand written note cards to say happy holidays to my co-workers . They are not very close but it does not hurt to write few words .To close friends we give so much but to others even a simple note means a lot and we get a chance to listen few positive words . Thank u again for sharing your article .

  12. Thank you Daniel for the great post and timely reminder, especially in this festive season and uncertain world, let’s all remember to be grateful for what we have and show appreciation. Thanks once again!

  13. Mitali Grover

    Thank you for such a nice article….

  14. Jo, I’m glad that I could be part of the Universe’s efforts to make this world a happier place. :)

  15. Hi Mo, thank YOU for making the effort to write a comment!

  16. Finola, I hope you find opportunities to put some of these tips into practice. :)

  17. Hey Sabina, I’m happy to hear that my 20 tips seem like a million. :) Thanks for sharing. You’re right– gratitude should be both private and public!

  18. Hey MarkS, those are some awesome stories! You’re clearly someone who has immense patience, and who doesn’t let his emotions get the better of him in difficult situations.

    (It’s also cool that you’re an engineer too.)

    We would all benefit if you shared with us some tips on how to keep your cool even when dealing with unreasonable people!

  19. Nicole, you’re completely right– expressing gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most of us. I definitely need to make an intentional effort to be thankful, if not I’ll just find more things to complain about!

  20. Sonal, I’m so encouraged that you wrote notes to 3 of your co-workers. I’m sure that you made their day. :) You definitely helped to make mine by letting me know that the article was useful to you!

  21. Lawrence, wow– that’s so much gratitude you showed me in just two sentences. Thank you for being so generous with your thanks!

  22. MarkS

    Daniel,

    I know that I took this off on another tangent, but it’s because you talked about having cranky people contacting you with problems and how it “made you sad”. I don’t want you to be sad, and you don’t have to be sad.

    As engineers, you and I are problem solvers, so some of this might come naturally to you and I, but here are some tips that I’ve learned after being a software engineer for many years (a field that isn’t known for people with the best social and communication skills), and then having to jump in to do front line customer support as well.

    The pleasant customers with problems aren’t the issue here.

    These are my tips for dealing with the “irate” customer emails.

    1) Focus on the problem the customer (or manager, other employee, etc) needs solved. I’ve gotten support requests that can be summed up like this. “Your $&%&= software is $&^^@ broken!!! I want it fixed NOW!!!!” Where to begin? Whether they state what the problem is explicitly or you have to tease out the details of what the problem is so that you can solve it, that is the real reason for the call or email.

    2) Empathize with the person a little: “I’m sure this is frustrating for you, but let me take a look into this. Can you give me more details on the …”

    3) Let them know that you’re going to be committed to resolving the problem for them: “I need to get to the bottom of this, so I will get back to you in xxx hours. I need some time to debug/create/finish etc.”

    4) Have a sense of humor about things. Be careful that you don’t make too big of a joke about it, because they’re coming to you from a point of frustration, but after you reassure them that you’re going to spend time and commit yourself to solving their problem, it helps to end with a lighthearted tone with them.

    5) Have a sense of humor about things. Yes, I’m saying it again, but from a different perspective this time. YOU need to not get frustrated by the irate customer that calls you and lays into you about a problem. I’ve always dealt with crisis with a hefty dose of humor. People I went to school with, or coworkers would say to me, “How you can laugh about this? This is a problem!” OK. Would it help the problem if I got angry then? Or if I cried about it? Or if I got sullen and depressed that we have a problem? I didn’t think so. Let’s be in a more cheerful and positive frame of mind and we’ll prevail much easier on solving them problem. OK, now that we’re all realizing that this problem exists no matter what disposition we have towards it, it isn’t the end of the world, let’s fix it and be happy. You’ll keep your sanity when you’re reading your 100 emails that “made you sad” if you find a way to see the humor in the situation and not let it make you sad. If there is no humor in the situation… make some humor yourself.

    6) Simply know that you have 100 people with problems who need your help. You have a chance to solve problems for 100 people and make them happy again. Those particularly irate people might just be having a really bad day; stuff is happening to them behind the scenes that maybe you don’t know about and it’s making them cranky. Treat them well and they’ll probably show you a lot more appreciation when they know that you’re going to do your best to help them. They need one less thing to worry about and if you can take the burden off of them and assure them that you will handle things and get back to them with what they need, you’re doing them a huge favor.

    7) You can win them all over. Better than 9 out of 10 of the people coming at you with problems and a cranky attitude will end up pleased and more cheerful if you do your best to help them. There will be the occasional person you can’t please. Let it go. It’s just a job. Some people you can’t please and if they continue to be cranky/nasty, visualize their misery just flying past you, but never take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Be grateful that you don’t have to live with that person. ;-)

    Don’t you guys like how I write entire posts in a single comment. ;-)

  23. HI Daniel,

    It’s true. Not many people have the attitude of gratitude. We live a society where performance and making money is more important than showing gratitude for what we have and what we receive from others.

    Cultivating the attitude of gratitude can help us to make us feeling more loved and appreciated.

    Thanks for the (practical) reminder

  24. We all need motivation. The simple rule is that you find yourself motivated when you’re really making effort to motivate others.

  25. Mitali, I’m glad you liked it!

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