How to Start (and Enjoy) a Gratitude Practice

Back in September, I attended a local Levo League event at which the fabulous Britt Reints from In Pursuit of Happiness spoke with us young professional women about her experiences practicing gratitude. After all, gratitude isn't just something you feel, it's something you do. You can choose to practice gratitude, just like you can choose your attitude. It isn't always easy, though, and it often gets pushed to the back burner when there are so many other emotions that push gratitude aside and fight to the front of your brain and too many tasks to complete right up to the point when you can close your eyes and collapse in exhaustion seemingly each night.

Even so, we all know gratitude--feeling grateful and appreciative for what and who we have in our lives--is a good thing. A fantastic thing. A necessary thing. We need it in order to fully understand life and to reflect on where have been and where we are going. And sometimes, it's the only thing that helps us get through difficult times in life. Gratitude makes us happy.

Did you know your happiness also has a ripple effect--there are three degrees of separation between you and the people who can feel your happiness! This means your friends' friends can feel the effects of your happiness. With how seemingly ugly the world can be at times, it's more important than ever to help foster and maintain gratitude.

In order to bring more opportunities to feel and share gratefulness throughout your life, try starting a gratitude practice.

Ralph Waldo Emerson quote about gratitude
Ralph Waldo Emerson quote about gratitude

What is a Gratitude Practice?

There are several ways you can practice gratitude. The goal in each practice, however, is the same: take at least a certain amount of time to pause and reflect on what you are grateful for and commit it to memory in some capacity (usually on paper) to be able to review and share later. The effect? Stronger self-awareness and understanding of one's happiness and goals AND chances are, the people around you will feel it, too.

If you think you've been feeling pretty grateful recently but still aren't all that happy, read Britt's take on Why Gratitude Isn't Making You Happy...Yet.

Ways to Practice Gratitude

At the Levo event, we created Gratitude Journals. We were provided fun and colorful notebooks (who doesn't like a brand new black notebook with college ruling?! If you don't understand this kind of excitement, I'm not sure you can truly understand me.) and tons of stickers and washi tape with which to decorate and adorn. This gave us ownership over our new gratitude journals and by creating them as a group, we automatically built this sense of accountability with one another. Even though it wasn't likely that we would share these journals with each other at a later date, there was always the chance that we would bring it up in conversation later (after all, the whole evening was full of such great conversation that it was bound to be brought up again!)--so you better believe I wanted to start and hopefully maintain my journal.

The goal of a gratitude journal is simply to write down at least three things you are grateful for every night before bed. Done. That's it. It seems simple, but this intentional act will do more than fill up a cute notebook.

10 Ways to Practice Gratitude
10 Ways to Practice Gratitude

In addition to a gratitude journal, here are nine other ways to practice gratitude:

  • Fill up a Happiness Jar
  • Post a picture a day on social media with one thing that you are grateful for
  • Participate in #100HappyDays
  • Send a text or call one person each day just to tell them thanks
  • Post little notes around your house as small, but consistent reminders
  • Establish a bed time routine with your spouse, significant other, children, or friends to talk about what you are grateful for each night before you fall asleep
  • Leave love letters for strangers. After all, the world could use more love letters (and you'll be surprised as to how it will affect you in return.)
  • Make a donation to an important cause near and dear to your heart in honor of something or someone you are grateful for
  • Write yourself a thank you letter or blog post. Read it a year later.

There you have it: 10 Ways to Practice Gratitude! What other ways can you practice gratitude on a regular basis? I'd love to add your suggestions to this list!

I've Practiced Gratitude. Now What?

It's one thing to practice gratitude, but it's another to process and reflect on the act of being grateful. Personally, I was really good with my gratitude practice for about a week and then it became sporadic and random. The other day, however, I went back through my previous entries and it was so enlightening. I found a lot of trends and connections between the days. For example, I found that some of the things I felt most grateful for included being able to take walks at lunch time, spending time with my family and friends, enjoying opportunities and responsibilities at work, and embracing new experiences. These trends really reflect what is important to me now and can say a whole lot about you.

One thing I found particularly interesting while I practiced gratitude was that every time I went to write down my 3+ things, I also began thinking about things I wanted and needed to pray about. It may seem obvious that there is a connection between gratitude and spirituality, but I was surprised to witness how much the act of reflection and appreciation could have such a profound effect on the things I wanted to talk to God about. It wasn't just the things I was grateful for, however, but it also included my concerns and worries and stresses. I discovered that a gratitude practice helps me think through and process these emotions and thoughts in a healthy way--seeing the things I am grateful for on paper reminds me of how blessed I am despite these worries.

If you're someone who has trouble finding gratitude in the midst of a bad situation, read what Angelica has taken away from her gratitude practice.

Gratitude isn't just for Thanksgiving, but it sure is a great place to start. If you've contemplated starting a gratitude journal, I encourage you to start now. It'll always be there for you, even when you don't write in it for weeks or months at a time.

Go on, be grateful. I dare you.