An Exercise in Thanks

5 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude

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Mother giving daughter a piggyback ride enjoying one of many ways to practice gratitude

Did you ever think gratitude would be something you’d need to practice? It may seem an odd thought, but in our current climate, being grateful is a simple concept that seems to go by the wayside. Whether it’s social media “likes,” picture-perfect influencer posts, or the many other distractions vying for our attention, we're trained to want more — looking to the little dopamine hits of tomorrow instead of celebrating the day at hand.

But what if we flipped the narrative? What if we took time to reflect on all we have — redefining gratitude in ways that pull us out of our tunnel vision and let us find true fulfillment? Even the subtlest of shifts in the stories we tell ourselves can translate to more happiness.

It all starts when we adopt simple ways to practice gratitude in our daily lives...

The Benefits of Gratitude

Father playfully wrestling with children on bed

At the end of the day, gratitude doesn’t have to be limited to the big things... or the next thing. It can be as small as a sudden realization in the most everyday of moments. At the heart of this is the simple acceptance that we're lucky to sit down to a meal, fortunate to be in good health, or simply able to take time to reflect.

Such a realization means more than just a fleeting fuzzy feeling. It pays off in dividends for our mental, emotional, and physical health:

  • Gratitude leads to more happiness and eases depression. (Harvard Health)
  • Gratitude leads to better, more restful sleep. (Forbes)
  • Gratitude gives you more impulse control. (Time)
  • Gratitude improves romantic relationships. (Berkeley)
  • Gratitude can even reduce your blood pressure. (Positive Psychology)

Easy Ways to Show Gratitude Every Day

Idea 01

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Woman's hand writing in journal with pen

Research has shown that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week can actually have an impact on our happiness. Most of us assume we can just think these grateful thoughts in our head, like many of us probably frequently do (and it's a great start!). But, the physical act of actually writing them down is where the true power lies.

Be specific.

Try to focus on the people or things you’re grateful for. For example: “I’m grateful for my sister’s funny texts every day,” instead of just “I’m grateful for my sister.”

Keep it close at hand.

Keep your journal in a convenient place where you see it and remember to write. Maybe it’s on the table where you eat breakfast so you notice it first thing in the morning. Or, on your nightstand so you can jot a few thoughts down before going to sleep.

Give yourself a reminder.

Set a reminder or alert in your phone or calendar to help you remember to take pause, grab a pen, and do some quick writing.

Go digital if it's easier.

If you’re not a pen and paper kind of person you can digitally chronicle grateful thoughts in your phone, computer, or other favorite device. There’s certainly no right or wrong place to be thankful.

Idea 02

Practice Gratitude Meditation

Young woman in a river taking in the scenic views

An ancient practice for Buddhist monks, Tibetan monks, Native Americans, and many other groups, gratitude meditation is a type of meditation focused on channeling gratitude for the people and things in your life.

You may associate meditation with sitting very still in a quiet room. And while that’s definitely one method, gratitude meditation can happen anywhere, at any time — simply by clearing your mind and focusing on a single mantra.

Try it first thing in the morning after you’ve hit your snooze button one or two (or ten) times, while walking the dog, or in the shower when you have a few moments of peace. It can even make everyday, mundane tasks like household chores a little more enjoyable.

Idea 03

Put Your Gratitude on Display

Photo prints of children on display on two floating shelves attached to a dark blue wall

We all know how powerful images can be. Most of us probably have a camera roll full of thousands of photos we look through every now and again, reminiscing about the meaningful moments or people that pop up on our screens. Having these photos physically out and on display can be an instant way to create a constant and ever present reminder of your gratitude for the things in your life that matter most.

Consider printing a few of those photos out every so often and placing them around your house, car, or office. You can even display photos without a frame if that's more your style — just prop them up and enjoy simple reminders that there's much to be thankful for.

Turn it into a gratitude wall.

Simply print your favorites and tape them up on a wall you see every day (make sure to use removable tape, like painter’s or washi tape, so you don’t damage those walls). You can also include meaningful sentimentals like show tickets. Then, take a little time to admire it whenever you pass by. It’s an enjoyable exercise in getting in touch with gratitude — not to mention a great way to practice it, every day.

Photo prints taped to wall

Photo By @withlovedani

Idea 04

Create A Gratitude Book

Photo book opened to images of children with gingerbread house

Once upon a time, photo albums were always physical books displayed on a coffee table or a bookshelf, instead of folders inside our phones or computers. Or scrapbooks, brimming with meaningful pictures and souvenirs from special moments or places visited. (Some of us probably still have these old albums — or at least our parents do!)

You could easily call them “Gratitude Books,” because they’re filled with the people or little tokens that are important to us. They were and are a way to preserve all the things big and small, that, when woven together, create the fabric that tells our story.

Sitting down to create a photo book is putting gratitude into practice. With each photo, you remember why it was taken — an instant return ticket to a moment otherwise gone. Then, you bring them together to tell a story, whether by theme or event or just completely random and beautifully unordered.

Idea 05

Gratitude on the Go

Mother and baby daughter on tram

We all lead busy lives and time is one of our most precious assets. So here are some quick and easy little ways to show gratitude on even the most hectic of days:

  • Tell someone you love them and why you appreciate them.
  • Try to do one simple act of kindness each day. (It can be big or small!)
  • Mail (or email) a thank you note to someone who made you feel good.
  • Surprise a friend, coworker, or stranger with an unprompted compliment.
  • Post something you’re grateful for on social media every week.

What Are You Grateful For?

Feeling grateful for what you have and taking a few moments to reflect on it can do wonders for your mood and wellbeing. Finding ways to practice gratitude in your life can give you a greater sense of feeling more connected to others and a more optimistic outlook on life, not to mention better sleep quality.

So here's to gratitude-ing. No, that's not a word — but perhaps it's time we made it one.

About the Author

Lindsey Kaufman

Lindsey Kaufman Palan is a freelance writer and creative director who’s new(ish) to the mom game and would really love a nap. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Dan and their babe, Jack. You can follow her adventures in writing (and eating) @linzfaryl.

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