12 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

With the holiday season starting to get in to full swing (don’t even get me started on Christmas music before Thanksgiving), we thought it would be good to kick off November with a good look at gratitude.

Sure, you may say it’s not an original topic given the season and Thanksgiving being just a few short weeks away, but a look at this morning’s TODAY show proved that maybe we do need a little reminder before Turkey Day hits.

As I was sipping my morning coffee and catching up on emails I heard Matt Lauer mention something about Black Friday deals coming earlier, as in right now. As soon as I got done choking on my coffee, my eyes met the TV screen, which showed video clips of people across the country trampling and shoving each other to get to their wanted items first.

Let the holiday season commence.

So in an effort to hopefully put some things in to perspective this holiday season as well as do something beneficial for your health, we’re going to take an early look at ways you can cultivate an attitude of gratitude that will last much longer than your Thanksgiving leftovers.

 1.) Write in a Journal

You don’t have to start every entry with “Dear Diary…,” but journaling is a wonderful way to be mindful about exactly what it is you’re grateful for. Whatever your writing style is: quotes, little blurbs throughout the day or a giant brain dump at the end of it, putting what’s in your heart and mind on paper leaves a physical trail of your gratitude.

You can see where your heart is heavy, where you find comfort and silver linings, and over time I bet you’ll have more things to write than you have space in your journal.


 2.) Family Discussion

We’re all familiar with the Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for, but why can’t we make this a daily tradition?

You’ll find that when you practice openly stating what you’re thankful for on a daily basis you’ll start to think about the little things you’re thankful for that you often take for granted. For example, when you go around the table once a year it’s easy to say your token response of “family, friends, roof over our head, etc.” And not that those things aren’t something to be thankful for, but those are the big things. Challenge yourself with the daily in and out things we often don’t give a second thought.


3.) Give Back Your Time

A thing that many people do throughout the holiday season is volunteer at shelters or other community organizations that help people in hard life situations whether it be homelessness, recovering from addiction or recovering from domestic abuse, etc.

You may already give to these types of organizations by donating canned food or putting change in the Salvation Army red kettles, but donating a portion of your day will really make an impact in cultivating your attitude of gratitude.

Interacting with and serving people who are in less fortunate situations is necessary to truly put our position in society in to perspective. It’s easy to let money troubles and other things become a main source of stress and strife in our lives, but when we see how others survive and cope with much less (and many of them are some of the most joyful, optimistic and grateful people you’ll meet), you’ll find yourself very thankful for the abundance you do possess even though you may not have previously thought of it as abundance.


4.) Read About It

Some of the best ways to learn about something is to do further reading and research on it. Here’s a nice list of 11 Books About Gratitude to Read Over the Holidays. Number 3 could make a great holiday gift for any little ones in your life.


 5.) Make a No-Complaining Pact

It is so easy to start a gathering with complaining. It’s not something we intend to do, it just somehow happens. It’s like we’ve become afraid to talk about all the blessings and great thing happening in our lives to avoid sounding like we’re bragging.

However, talking about the good things doesn’t come off as boasting when there’s gratitude behind it. So next time you find yourself wanting to complain, think of five things that you’re grateful for and talk about those. And let other people know about the pact you have with yourself, spreading gratitude to others only increases yours!


6.) Put it in Plain Sight

For those who are more visual, having a place to collect moments, trinkets or words that exemplify things you are grateful for can be a powerful tool in becoming more mindful in your practice of gratitude.

In similar ways that you might create an inspiration bulletin board or post inspiring messages to your fridge, post words and photos in an area you will see them that serve as a daily “give thanks” reminder.


 7.) Live in the Now

Sometimes this is much easier said than done, but the only way we can only truly be grateful is focusing on the present. Dwelling on our past may offer some fond memories to be grateful for, but more often than not we look to our past thinking of ways we could’ve said or done things differently, or imagining how life would be now if a certain something had happened.

If you’re too focused on those things that can’t be changed, you lose the opportunity to create moments in the present that you can be thankful for in the here and now.


 8.) Write a Thank You Letter

This practice is a nice way to go beyond verbalizing your gratitude to actually showing it. With the art of handwritten notes dying, people of almost any age get a pleasant surprise out of an unexpected, handwritten letter. The time you take in writing out to someone you are thankful to have in your life will absolutely help you cultivate an attitude of gratitude toward people rather than just things.

Also, writing more thank you notes for things like getting a ride home from a friend or having a coworker grab you coffee on that day you couldn’t peel yourself away from your desk shows that you notice those little things and that they matter.


 9.) Create Your Personal Gratitude Routine or Ritual

Whether it’s writing in your gratitude journal at lunch, saying a gratitude prayer during your relaxing shower or just meditating for a few minutes in the middle of the day, having a routine with your gratitude practices is a good way to make sure it’s an attitude you’re cultivating daily, not just when it’s convenient or you remember to do it.


10.) Thank Yourself

Cultivating gratitude is primarily about extending that thankfulness outward to the things that affect and surround you, however it’s okay and necessary to be thankful for your own qualities too.

For example, I’m thankful for a healthy body that allows me to enjoy running outdoors with ease (on most days) and I’m also thankful that I have a natural joy of cooking that allows me to make nutritious meals for my family.


11.) Shower Others in Love

Being there for other people, even when they’re not in a time of need, is a great way to show your gratitude. Whether it’s delivering flowers, a homemade meal, a night of watching your friend’s kids so they can go on a date night or simply showing up to have an in-person conversation with a friend when you know they need to get things off their chest shows that you value and love them.


12.) Simply Say “Thank You” More

Seems almost too easy to be an actual practice, but you would be surprised how many moments we may forget to say thank you. Obvious moments like someone holding the door isn’t exactly what I’m getting at here, I’m thinking more along the lines of thanking your husband for taking out the trash without asking (or even when you do ask), thanking the waitress before you head out the door and wishing her a good rest of the night, thanking your friend for helping you move something heavy out of your car.

Just all the little things, make it an extra point to say thank you more often.

Not only will partaking in some of these actions assist in a more positive outlook on life (something we can all use a boost in from time to time), but you’ll also be lowering your stress and risk of depression, as well as increasing your desire to be generous, responsible and committed in your life, career and relationships.

To tie it all together, go in to your gratitude efforts this holiday season remembering this quote from William Arthur Ward, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

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Elle Michels

Elle Michels

Based in Washington, D.C., Elle Michels is a contributing writer to Womenshealth.com.