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The Practice of Gratitude

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful and showing appreciation for kindness. If there is one upgrade you make this coming year to your daily routine, adding a practice of gratitude improves nearly every area of life.

Tenets of multiple religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and eastern faiths like Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, and Hinduism, incorporate gratitude within the rituals of faith. 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous incorporate gratitude as part of its steps to recovery. Countless self-help programs use gratitude as a way to ground oneself from the sways of depression and anxiety. Even popular speakers in business and education strongly encourage participants to incorporate gratitude practices. Zig Zigler wrote, “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”

I call it a “practice” of gratitude because practice is the actual application of an idea. What does that look like? Well, it depends. It could be as short as a whispered or mental thank you for a meal before eating or it could be as long as an extensive gratitude journal. Whatever technique you choose to go with, it should not feel like a chore. If the notion of “I have to” enters this practice, that creates obligatory energy that defies the point. If the technique you chose feels like a required check from a to-do list, then perhaps a different method would work best for you.

My favorite gratitude practice happens in the car. As soon as I have my children buckled in their car seats and I sit behind the wheel, I take about sixty seconds and say out loud all of the things I am grateful for. My sixty-second gratitude list is a convoluted stream-of-consciousness. For example:

“I am so incredibly grateful for this life. I am grateful for my husband. Waking up next to him every morning fills me with love and security. I am grateful for his love and his support. I am grateful for my hot, delicious mug of coffee and the caffeine that picks me first thing in the morning. I am grateful for my children. I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home and raise them because I get to witness all of their growth and major milestones. I am grateful for patience because even though Hazel decided to scream as loud as she could at the grocery store this morning, I know her lungs and vocal cords are working just fine. She is understanding her wants and I am grateful for the opportunity to set strong boundaries so she can grow to be a mature adult one day. I am grateful for Maggie’s opportunity to go to ABA therapy. Every day, I watch Maggie’s growth, physical and cognitive growth. Maggie can now say a stream of vowels. I am grateful that my daughters are bonding, and the symphony of their vowels sung in unison fills the interior of my van. I am grateful to hear Maggie’s voice and I am so grateful to see them reach for each other’s hands. I am grateful for the love they share. Thank you, thank you, thank you...”

This does not need to be sixty seconds. This can go on as long as I want, but I try not to go for less than sixty seconds. I verbalize my gratitude in front of my children because I want to model for them this practice.

Gratitude journals are another way to go. Paper or electronic, the premise is simple. Starting with a sentence-stem like “I am grateful for...” or “thank you for...” begin to list everything you are grateful for. You can be grateful for the big things, of course, like major relationships, your career, your home, having enough to eat, but I think the real magic happens in gratitude when you focus on the little things, the types of things that we often take for granted when life gets busy.

I am grateful for the smell of coffee in the morning.

I am grateful for how soft and warm this blanket feels up against my skin.

I am grateful for the clean laundry.

I am grateful for the book that I am reading.

I am grateful for my lips because when they smile, I feel happy.

I am grateful for the ladybug that flew into my kitchen. I am grateful to set it free outside and for the wish I made as it flew away.

Sometimes a quote can stir gratitude. Reflecting on the ideas expressed in a gratitude quote could help spur your list. The following are a few of my favorite gratitude quotes:

“Gratitude opens the door to... the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe. You open the door through gratitude.” (Deepak Chopra)

“Gratitude makes sense of your past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” (Melody Beattie)

“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)

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratitude, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.” (Alan Cohen)

I am grateful to everyone who reads my blog. Thank you for taking some time to read my thoughts and I hope that the suggestions you read here are helpful to you in your life. Thank you.


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