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The Gratitude Guide: 14 Practical Ways to Practice

Photo by Tonglé Dakum
Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough. ~Oprah Winfrey

A few months ago, I was going through one of the hardest times of my life: Within the span of a few weeks, I had to find and move to a new apartment suddenly, suffered a devastating personal loss of a close family member, and was having some serious health problems.

Every day when I woke up, it felt like life was becoming increasingly hectic. I found myself wondering, “When will it end?”

Eventually, after countless hours of kindly giving me a listening ear through all the troubles, my best friend reminded me how important it is to take stock of all the good things I still had in my life. When things became crazy, I’d become too content to focus on how bad things seemed instead.

Putting my friend’s advice into practice, every night I lay in bed and took a mental inventory of those good things. On the really stressful days, sometimes the best positive affirmations I could come up with were, “At least I didn’t get sick today,” and “I have a roof over my head.”

Over time, the stresses of life eased, and my list of gratitude got longer. I still practice taking a gratitude inventory to this day, because I find it so helpful.

Why Live a Grateful Lifestyle?

The benefits of gratitude aren’t just perks praised by people who live in hippie communes and passionately speak out for peace. Science has proven why it’s good to be grateful and not just at Thanksgiving.

Specifically, gratitude has a positive effect on physical and emotional health. It also reduces aggression and makes a person more empathetic.

Even showing gratitude for the small things — such as saying thanks when a person holds a door open or writing a quick thank you note to a co-worker — can make people feel more open about extending new opportunities to you.

Getting That Gratitude Going

Just like any new habit, showing gratitude on a regular basis will probably be something you have to get used to doing over time. You’ll also likely have to mentally coach yourself to find the good things in life when things get tough.

As I learned recently, life can become so hectic so fast that it can feel like you’re caught in a whirlwind of chaos with no way out.

Try to give yourself permission to engage in thinking freely about those things for which you are grateful. The more you’re able to do that, the easier it should become to pull yourself out of the common rut of feeling sorry for yourself and convincing yourself it’s just easier to stay in an ungrateful mood.

Also, try putting these steps into practice:

  • Make a daily commitment: There may be days when you have to force yourself to feel grateful. Even in those cases, summoning a grateful attitude is beneficial. Become determined to remember what makes you feel grateful every day without fail.
  • Put your gratitude in writing: While in high school or college, you may have found writing down learned concepts helped you remember them better. The same is true with cultivating gratitude. Consider getting a journal or a gratitude jar and writing grateful thoughts there so you can refer to them later.
  • Live in the moment: It can be easy to lose sight of gratitude if you’re constantly thinking about things you could have done better or worrying over things that haven’t happened yet. Gently coax yourself to appreciate the present moment and all its offering.
  • Partner with a friend or family member: Adopting a life-changing habit is usually easier with the support of someone else. Ask someone to join you in the process. Try incorporating gratitude into your conversations over dinner or when you tuck your kids into bed, or text your BFF at the end of each day with the things you’re thankful for.
  • Don’t become preoccupied with perceived failure: Everyone has bad days from time to time, and you’re human. When summoning gratitude seems like an impossible task, don’t get discouraged. Just make a promise to try again tomorrow, and stick to it.

Practical Ways to Practice Every Day 

The steps you’ve just read take practice, but they should put you on track for being a more grateful person. The next goal, then, is to find outlets so gratitude benefits you and the people in your sphere of influence.

Here are 14 ways you can make gratitude a way of life:

  • Volunteer for a personally meaningful cause.
  • Be extra courteous to waitresses, cleaning personnel and others whose contributions sometimes get overlooked. Showing your appreciation will not only brighten their day, but it may also result in better service.
  • Write a handwritten note to someone to say thanks, and deliver it in person.
  • Share a post on social media from a company or person you believe is doing great things.
  • Call a loved one just to say you appreciate him or her.
  • Look in the mirror and say, “You’re doing great” as you start the day.
  • Whenever you notice something negative about a person or environment, change your perspective and find something positive to reflect on instead.
  • Compliment at least one stranger per day.
  • While in a leadership role at school or work, thank your team for their contributions. Showing gratitude as a leader creates a positive atmosphere, inspires employees, and boosts your image — not doing so results in major losses of production, key employees and morale.
  • When bad things happen, ask yourself what can be learned from them.
  • Instead of calling a trustworthy friend to complain about your life, use the time to talk about good things that have happened since you last spoke.
  • Remember to be thankful for things others probably take for granted, such as good weather or that you can drive a car during your commute instead of having to walk.
  • Find at least one motivational quote per week and reflect on it whenever you start to feel grumpy or discouraged.
  • Spend at least five minutes thinking about all the ways you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone lately and succeeded in the face of challenges.

You’ll soon be able to come up with your own rewarding ways to apply gratitude to life, and hopefully that list will cause inspiration to start flowing.

Gratitude is certainly something that can’t be learned overnight. However, you now have several strategies for being and staying grateful. As soon as you make a point of living gratefully, you’ll never look back.

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About the author

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on finding happiness and success in the work world. You can find her dishing out advice with a side of wit on Twitter and her career advice blog, Punched Clocks. For more information about showing gratitude as a leader, check out this post by Dr. Ramiro Zuniga.

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1 thought on The Gratitude Guide: 14 Practical Ways to Practice

  1. This is great, Sarah! And I’ve been there–when the things you can list to be grateful for are that the lights or still on and you have running water! But as you said, BEING grateful for those things causes the list to grow over time.
    I especially love: “Gently coax yourself to appreciate the present moment and all its offering.”
    Great tip!
    Because another thing I’ve learned is that you cannot be in gratitude and fear at the same time. So I’m going to use that tip to stay in gratitude.
    Thank You!

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