Building an attitude of gratitude benefits not only the people around you. Research has shown that being grateful also increases your own happiness, fights off depression and anxiety, lowers your blood pressure, and more.
My last post talked about cultivating gratitude through evidence-based practices like keeping a gratitude journal and writing a letter of appreciation to someone in your life. But maybe you don’t have to write a gratitude letter, or you’re too tired at night to do a journal.
Here are 10 simple things you can build into your routine that will help foster your own sense of gratitude. You’re probably already doing some of them.
1. Say thank you
I know, it’s obvious. But if you’re like me, you might neglect to thank the person who bags your groceries, fields your customer service call (no matter how irritating!), or empties a restroom trash can. You don’t mean to ignore them: you just get wrapped up in your own thoughts, or you’re in a hurry.
All the same, saying thanks is a small way to acknowledge someone else’s service that makes your life easier. I’m learning to thank people I encounter along my path. They’re often just doing their jobs. But saying thanks acknowledges them. And it makes you feel better, too.
Have you noticed how many people go through their day with dull expressions on their faces? Frowns, even? Another thing I’m trying to do is to wear a smile as my default expression.
Smiling at someone else will usually cause them to smile back.
Just try it.
3. Wave thanks when driving
This is one of my pet peeves. You’ve been there. You’re in slow-moving traffic and someone nudges in front of you, little by little. All the while being careful never to look at you.
If they looked your way and waved, you’d probably be glad to let them in. But when the other driver pretends you’re not there and simply cuts in, it’s annoying.
Don’t be that annoying person. Even if you’re actually cutting in front of someone, give them the benefit of the doubt, and wave “thanks.” You’ll feel better, and so will they.
4. Appreciate a stranger in advance
Many of us spend a lot of time around people we don’t know, whether we’re buying our morning coffee or traveling to a different city. There are little things you can do, however, to value the people around you – even before they’ve done anything for you. Even if they don’t ever do anything for you. For example, you can:
- Let a mom and her toddler go ahead of you in line
- Wipe the crumbs off your table when you leave Starbucks
- Throw out your trash and leave a tip for the hotel maid
- Use your paper towel to dry off the restroom counter
- Return your grocery cart instead of blocking a parking spot with it
You get the picture.
5. Compliment someone on a job well done
Whether you know the person or not, you can thank them for doing something well. This might be a simple compliment to the person who grooms your dog. Or a quick email to let someone know you liked their presentation at a meeting.
It needn’t take much time, but sharing a compliment in this way can make someone’s day.
It’s kind of fun, too. Make a game of trying to “catch” a person doing something well so you can compliment them.
6. Notice something beautiful
A surefire way to build a sense of gratitude is to spend time in nature. Observing natural beauty awakens your appreciation for the created world. It makes you aware of things outside yourself – things you didn’t make, but that are there for you to enjoy.
Even if you can’t go for a hike in the woods, you can notice a beautiful spider web outside your window. A foggy morning. A newborn baby’s tiny hands.
You might want to share a picture of what you notice on social media. In this way, you share your appreciation with others. It will encourage friends to do the same.
Everyone’s gratitude will multiply. Plus, your newsfeed might even take on a more positive tone.
Savoring is something you often associate with food or drink. A perfectly-roasted steak, a decadent chocolate dessert, or a fabulous bottle of wine.
Savoring also connotes appreciation for the now. You can savor an evening with friends, an hour alone, a good movie.
Savoring is about mindfulness. In particular about cultivating your awareness of good things happening right now. Focusing your mind on present goodness is a powerful way to build an attitude of gratitude.
8. Share your gratitude with your partner
Families sometimes spark dinner conversation by going around the table and having each person share one good thing and one bad thing about their day. Even if your kids have grown up and moved away, you can still review your day with your spouse or a friend.
Try the exercise Martin Seligman developed, called Three Good Things, or What Went Well. But instead of (or in addition to) writing your three W’s in a gratitude journal, talk about them with your partner.
The two of you might find discussing things you’re grateful for draws you closer together. You might choose to make this type of conversation a regular habit.
9. Do random acts of kindness
Here’s where you get to be creative in building an attitude of gratitude. You combine noticing with doing, often incorporating an element of surprise.
For example, you might be out at a restaurant and see one of your children’s teachers, your doctor or a colleague sitting across the way. It can be fun to surprise them by sending over a bottle of wine or telling your waiter you’d like to pay for their dessert.
When they stop by to thank you, it’s your chance to tell them how much you appreciate what they’ve done for you.
My father was a pastor and my mother a teacher. We experienced random acts of kindness from lots of people in our community. Our family always felt grateful for people who paid for our meals or let us stay in a beach condo they owned.
I think our benefactors enjoyed giving us these gifts, too. Put your creativity to work and see what gratitude experiences you devise.
10. Pray or meditate
We’ve already discussed the importance of mindfulness in cultivating gratitude. One way to build mindfulness is through meditation. Another is through prayer, which you can think of as a type of meditation directed toward God or another spiritual being.
Meditation and prayer have many benefits, but building your sense of gratitude is one of them. Here are examples of meditations/prayers you may find helpful:
- 5-minute meditation on gratitude by The Mindful Movement
- Guided meditation on gratitude by Deepak Chopra, with intro by Oprah Winfrey (Day 2 of 21-day meditation experience, see note)
- St. Francis of Assisi’s Prayer for Gratitude (Canticle of the Sun)
Giving thanks has a boomerang effect
As social science researchers have demonstrated, expressing gratitude benefits not only the person being thanked but also the one doing the thanking. Developing an attitude of gratitude will increase your positive emotions and lower toxic ones. It will improve your relationships as well as your physical health.
Shifting your mindset to one of gratitude doesn’t need to cost you time or money. You can change your brain and improve your mental and physical health by incorporating simple practices such as these into your daily routine.
One more time, here are 10 simple ways to build an attitude of gratitude:
- Say thank you
- Wave thanks when driving
- Appreciate a stranger in advance
- Compliment someone on a job well done
- Notice something beautiful
- Share your gratitude with your partner
- Do random acts of kindness
- Pray or meditate
What do you do to develop an attitude of gratitude? Let me know in the comments!