On Gratitude

When I started counting my blessings my whole life turned around.
— Willie Nelson
You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Practicing gratitude serves to refocus the mind on what is abundant as opposed to what is lacking. It helps to balance out the mind’s incessant craving for satisfying needs and desires, bringing us more awareness and appreciation of what it is we already have in our life.

Mounting research in the realm of positive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology demonstrates time and time again that regular practice in feeling and expressing gratitude helps to support our health, build resilient relationships, and increase overall happiness. A grateful attitude tends to lead people to feel more positive, less stressed, more likely to eat well & exercise, and get better sleep.

Below are a few ideas for how to incorporate gratitude into your daily life. With any of these practices, prioritize taking time to experience the feeling of gratitude in your heart before rushing on to the next thing. It is important not to let gratitude become yet another obligation in your life, but to really experience it in your body. With practice, this can be done in a matter of seconds.

  • Notice: Just take time to notice things throughout your day that you feel thankful for. This could be a tree, the fresh air, the minimal amount of email in your inbox one morning, or for someone who took the time to help you with something. Just noticing your own internal feeling of gratitude and the happiness that results is a powerful practice. For more on the power of noticing, click here.

  • Write thank you notes: If you’re feeling grateful for someone who has helped you out or just generally appreciating their presence in your life, send a little note of thanks to them. Email them, text them or even write a card and mail it to them.

  • Gratitude Journal: Keep a journal in which you write down a few things each evening that you felt grateful for that day. Slow down to experience the feelings that arise as you write your entry.

  • Tell someone what you’re feeling grateful for: Whether this is something about them or just that you’re feeling grateful to have had another day to breathe fresh air and take in a sunset, telling someone how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing can be a great way to deepen your awareness of gratitude and to connect with a friend or loved one.

  • Gratitude & Food: A wonderful way to experience gratitude throughout your day is to take a minute before you eat a meal to imagine all the people involved in making your meal possible. Sit down in front of your meal and admire the food you’re about to eat. Imagine everyone involved in the preparation of that meal. This could include the person who prepared it, the farmers who grew the veggies, grains, and/or raised the meat, the truck drivers who brought the ingredients to your local grocer. The list can get long in quickly, but just enjoy making time to thank all those involved in your meal and notice how you feel afterward.

  • Watch this Ted Talk:

The one thing all humans have in common is that each of us wants to be happy, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you're going, and above all, being grateful.