How to practice gratitude

The Research

Developing a positive and grateful mindset is a huge part of building your meditation practice. It’s also one of the primary factors in creating a joyful, prosperous life. But many people don’t know how to practice gratitude in an enjoyable and consistent way. This guide will show you how.

Here is what a Harvard paper said about gratitude:

“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

In a 2003 study, half of the participants wrote a daily list of what they were grateful for, while the other half wrote lists of things that irritated them.

The study found that the gratitude-focused group exhibited greater wellbeing and gained many social and emotional benefits. The research paper then listed some of the reasons why gratitude improves our wellbeing:

  • Strengthens social bonds and friendships
  • Leads us to feel more loved and cared for
  • Gratitude is a form of love in itself
  • Helps us form new bonds
  • Builds and strengthens spirituality
  • Broadens the scope of cognition
  • Enables flexible and creative thinking
  • Facilitates coping with stress and adversity
  • Increases the likelihood of optimal functioning and feeling good

It’s reassuring to see the research to confirm our suspicions, but after a while, you won’t need external proof; your happiness, health, and optimism will be evidence enough.

Gratitude 101

How to practice gratitude

When we are grateful, we are happy; in fact, it’s impossible to feel grateful and miserable at the same time.

You might think it feels inauthentic to try and force gratitude. That’s how I used to feel anyway. But it’s a powerful way of reprogramming your subconscious mind into feeling positive and happy when we are so accustomed to negative thinking, worrying, and criticizing ourselves.

By cultivating gratitude, you not only reduce worry and fear; you replace them with love and joy. This post by Deena Douglas further explores how gratitude can change your life. 

Being grateful for what we have is also one of the most powerful ways to manifest more of what we want. When you focus on what you love and what you want, the universe responds by giving you more of the same.

You may have already tried gratitude lists, which can be a powerful tool, but I have a minor problem with them: I have found myself writing down the same things every day. Instead of feeling grateful, it becomes a mechanical process.

If we can add some variety to our practice of gratitude, we’ll find that we are more likely to enjoy it and keep it up.

Take action now. Download the gratitude exercises checklist so you can remember these exercises and practice them. Don’t just read this article and then forget all about it. 

Gratitude Exercises Checklist

Most people will read this post then forget to take action. Download this checklist now to practice these exercises in daily life and check them off as you go. See if you can complete them all for greater joy and appreciation of your life. 

How to practice gratitude: 7 Exercises

1. Write a gratitude list

Let’s start with the most well known. Take a journal and write in it every day or as often as you can.

Choose around five things you are grateful for and write them down. As you write, try to feel truly grateful and full of joy.

Don’t robotically list items without feeling anything. The universe does not respond to language and it certainly doesn’t speak English — its language is energy.

So, the way you feel is the most important thing. Ideally, you want to get to a place where you are close to tears of joy with how grateful you are.

2. Burst of appreciation

This time, choose one thing that you are super grateful for.

It can be anything or anyone that improves your life in some way. Write down all the reasons you love and cherish it/them.

You can write bullet points or a paragraph; whichever feels better. I find a paragraph helps better to flow and go deeper; it feels less mechanical. Try both and see what works.

Go on as long as you can, listing all the reasons you love this person or thing. Again remember to feel appreciation in your body and in your heart, not only in your head.

3. Gratitude on the Go

For this exercise, mentally say thank you for things as you come across them throughout the day.

As you make dinner, be grateful for the food; for the animals, plants, and sunlight required to bring this food to you.

Mentally say thank you when you come across people throughout the day who help you or serve you in some way.

Say thank you at work for your colleagues, for your desk, for your computer.

Be grateful when you wake up for your bed, your room, or your pillow.

When you’ve been practicing for a while, this will start to happen spontaneously. You will feel waves of joy and gratitude without even trying.

It feels wonderful to shift the attention away from the worrying, critical mind, and into a mindset of appreciation and abundance.

4. Night time/morning prayer

Before bed or when you wake up in the morning, close your eyes and say a prayer of gratitude.

Even if you aren’t religious, you can still pray. You can still thank the universe.

Pray with love in your heart and say thank you for all the blessings of today and yesterday. Think of all the specific things that happened and people that helped you.

I tend to pray at night before bed and reflect on the wonderful events that happened throughout the day.

Practicing this also makes you more aware of all there is to be grateful for as you go about your day. You begin to find joy in the simplest things.

Oftentimes, we don’t even realize how lucky we are.

5. Self-gratitude

You can do this mentally or in writing; I prefer writing it down, so I can reread it later (see How to Practice Gratitude tip 5).

Consider all the reasons you are grateful for yourself.

How much time do you spend criticizing yourself? And how much time do you spend praising yourself for who you are?

I would guess it’s about 80/20 in favor of criticism if you are anything like most people. Often this comes from our parents who, without knowing, were constantly trying to correct us when we were small. So we grow up with the feeling that we are doing wrong, that there is something wrong with us.

But you are truly amazing, and you hardly ever acknowledge it.

List all the reasons you love and cherish yourself: your looks, your personality, and your actions.

Really try to realize and feel how awesome you are.


6. Thank you note

Write a thank you note to someone or for something.

You don’t have to send the note; that’s up to you. You can just write it in your journal if you like, but it’s also nice to send thank you notes from time to time.

Or you could write a letter to someone important to you, telling them all the reasons you love them.

You could write to a service that you use and tell them the reasons you love their service: a restaurant, an online service, a school.

You could even write a positive review online for others to read. This is a powerful thing to do.

Or you could just write a thank you note in your journal and keep it to yourself. Remember it is not about what you do with it, but the energy you put out and the way you feel when writing.

A note of caution – be careful about leaving negative reviews or complaining. Remember, we get back what we put out there. Writing bad reviews tends to draw more negative experiences to you.

7. Catch yourself in the act

Finally, this one is a little bit trickier, as it requires paying attention to your thoughts. Meditation helps with this.

Notice when a negative thought comes up. Trust me, they come up a lot. It could be a negative thought about yourself, about someone else, or about anything.

When you’ve noticed a negative thought, shift to a mindset of gratitude, and think of one reason to be grateful for that thing. There is always a positive in every negative. You may have to dig deep, but it’s always there.

This process is great because it teaches you to pay attention to and shift your thoughts.

Gratitude Exercises Checklist

Most people will read this post then forget to take action. Download this checklist now to practice these exercises in daily life and check them off as you go. See if you can complete them all for greater joy and appreciation of your life. 

How to practice gratitude – 7 tips

1. Feel, feel, feel

You might fall into the trap of mechanically listing things with no feeling. That is a waste of time. The universe understands energy, not the English language. Feel deep appreciation in your heart and in the cells of your body.

2. Don't lie

You might think that you can just say thank you and pretend to be grateful but it doesn’t work like that. Imagine you have a difficult person you have to deal with at work and you want to find something to be grateful for about them. You don’t have to go to the extreme of saying how amazing this person is and how much you love them. That is just false.

Find something that you can appreciate about that person. Perhaps they are teaching you how to deal with challenges. Maybe you could appreciate their directness, or their confidence. Find something that you can genuinely appreciate as opposed to pretending. You have to be real, otherwise the energy will not be right.

3. Get specific

The more detail you can add, the more it will work, and the better you will feel. Good feelings cultivate good feelings, so go into lots of detail about why you are grateful for that person, place, or thing.

4. Get creative

There are many ways to get creative with this and you can come up with your own ideas. In your gratitude journal, you can get creative with drawings, colors, cutting, etc. And find creative ways to express gratitude. There are some ideas in this post but come up with your own ways as well.

5. Re-read your list

Come back to your lists now and again and reread them. After each item, say thank you three times, with love and joy. If you’re feeling down, it will lift you up, and if you’re feeling happy, it will make you even happier — a win-win.

6. Mix it up

If you find that your gratitude processes are becoming dull or dry, try another process to mix it up. It helps to bring variety. I’ll be honest: I do have weeks where none of these exercises work. If that’s the case, have a week off and start again when you feel ready.

7. Meditate

Meditation is your greatest friend when it comes to improving your mindset and your thought processes. Meditation helps us to become aware of our thoughts and pay attention to them more consistently. So that means we can control the amount of negative thoughts we let in and shift them to more grateful and positive thoughts. Download the meditation starter pack if you need help with this.

Final Word

We are always striving to find happiness in the future. We make plans so that one day, we can get the things we want.

Of course, when we do, we forget about the fact that we ever wanted it and move on to the next object of desire.

Instead, why not do the far simpler thing? Look around and acknowledge all of the wonderful things you have. We can only find happiness in this present moment.

So, take a look around.


Gratitude Exercises Checklist

Most people will read this post then forget to take action. Download this checklist now to practice these exercises in daily life and check them off as you go. See if you can complete them all for greater joy and appreciation of your life. 


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