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November 27, 2019 7 min read

Whether it's family, friends, health, or happiness, we all have a lot to be thankful for!

Yet thankfulness is something that can be difficult. It isn't something that you can turn on and off like a faucet. It can be hard to bring about genuine gratitude, but many simple exercises can help.

How do you cultivate gratitude and feel happier with life? 

Some of these are short activities; others are lifestyle choices. Explore them and see which ones assist you in bringing honest gratitude to your life. 

1. Begin Each Day Cultivating Gratitude

Girl wakes up happy

Starting your day with gratitude benefits how you feel. The phrase "waking up on the wrong side of the bed" exists for a reason. Our morning mindsets do a lot to influence the rest of our day, so try to start positive.

Start your daily routine by being grateful. You can do this in whatever way works best for you. Maybe you're thankful for who you woke up next to in your bed. Perhaps you're grateful for the gorgeous view outside your bedroom window.

2. Get Inspired

Humans are social creatures. We make natural connections to others in our community. You can cultivate gratitude by learning from the inspiring story of someone else.

Inspiration may also come from nature or your surroundings. Many artists venture to scenic locations for the inspiration to create. Your gratitude is your creation, seek inspiration for it. 

3. Live Your Own Story

Follow your own path

Grateful appreciation comes from within. Don't let the expectations or desires of others dictate your path for you. Make sure you are living your life and not the script someone else has written out.

If you deny the life you want to live, it will only foster feelings of resentment and disappointment. Think of the significant landmarks in your life: are they part of your story, or someone else's?

4. Assume Positive Intent With Others

Too often, we look for the failures of others and ignore the positives. Try to reframe the way you look at people.

Instead of waiting for something negative to shape your opinion of the people around you, look for the good that people bring. One way to help with this is to try to assume positive intent when interacting with others, especially loved ones.

5. Think of Helpful People

three women friends watching sunset

Thinking of people that have made a positive impact in your life is one of the simplest ways to practice gratitude. None of us got where we are without some help from others.

Take a few moments to think of the people who have helped you along the way. Be grateful for the connections you have to other people, and for your ability to help others in the same way they have helped you. 

6. Send Quick Messages

Cultivating gratitude doesn't need to involve lengthy tasks. You can get started with just a quick message to a colleague or friend. You don't have to send messages of thanks, either.

Showing your gratitude to someone may come in a lot of different forms. You might write a letter to a long-lost friend or make a phone call to someone you haven't talked to in a while. Simple gestures like this communicate a lot and strengthen your relationships. 

7. Write a Hand-Written Thank-You Note

Handwritten Thank You NoteWriting things by hand can help you better engage with what you're writing. Students who take notes by hand tend to remember more of what they learned, and taking the time to write down your thoughts can help you better understand them1.

The act of writing out a letter or thank you note can inspire more gratitude than a text or a phone call, and the person who receives the note will likely appreciate it more, too. 

8. Thank Someone, Mentally

Giving mental thanks can be very useful. Sometimes the person you want to thank is not easy to contact, or they may have even passed away. Perhaps you've already expressed your appreciation in the past. None of this should stop you from expressing gratitude. Remind yourself mentally of the people you are thankful for. 

9. Keep a Gratitude Journal 

Writing in Gratitude Journal

Logging your appreciation is a beneficial trick. Making a habit of taking the time to write things down in a gratitude journal helps you mentally connect with the things that inspire gratitude in your life. Plus, you'll have previous entries to look back over on days when you're feeling down.

Most people log entries in their gratitude journals at the end of each day, after they've had time to experience the day and reflect on their feelings. 

10. Find 5 Positive Things

A simple yet effective trick: to combat stress or negative emotions focus on five things in your life that make you feel good. Doing this will put you in a more positive mindset and reduce the anxiety you feel over the stuff you don't have.

Try to think of five different things each time you do this. Before you know it, you'll have cultivated a lengthy list of blessings in your life. 

11. Walk with Nature

The natural world can have a very calming effect. Engaging in the sights, smells, and sounds of nature can help you feel more relaxed and think more clearly. When you're trying to ways to cultivate gratitude, some outdoor scenery can be the perfect thinking space. If you choose to keep a gratitude journal, consider combining it with nature by making entries while you're outside. 

12. Cultivating Gratitude with Prayer

Hand folded in prayer

Many people find prayer to be the perfect vessel for expressing gratitude. Praying gives you a chance to reflect on the people in your lives and allows you the opportunity to wish them well. Praying for the health and happiness of yourself and those around you will help bring into focus the feeling of joy that you do have, and diminish fixation on the things that you don't.

You don't have to be religious to pray2. People can find peace and gratitude in secular prayer, as well. 

13. Meditate for Feelings of Gratitude

Meditation is healthy for your body and soul3. Some guided meditations are tailored specifically for cultivating gratitude, but you don't necessarily have to use them. Sometimes giving yourself a few moments of quiet reflection and relaxation can invoke feelings of gratitude without a guided script.

Practice calming your mind and body with these simple breathing exercises.

14. Practice Gratitude Affirmations (Picture Quotes)

hand writing gratitude affirmation on note card

Gratitude affirmations are short, succinct expressions of thankfulness.

Pick one affirmation to use each day. If you find practicing affirmations daily is too much, then try incorporating one every week or so.

There are many pre-written gratitude affirmations you can use, but they are more powerful when you create them yourself. The fundamental tips of a gratitude affirmation are:

●      Keep it short
●      Use the present and future tense
●      Include one powerful emotion
●      Keep it positive

15. Create A Photo Collage

Making a photo collage can help you create a tangible connection between your emotions and your tactile feelings. The photo collage doesn't have to be entirely on the nose, but it should at least be related to your feelings of gratitude. For example, you may create a collage of pictures from a family vacation if you're grateful for loved ones, or if you are thankful for the health and circumstances that allow you to travel. 

16. Use Phrases of Positivity

sign saying there is something good in every day

Try to train yourself away from negative expressions. When you talk and think negatively, it affects your mood and your ability to feel grateful. Focus instead on the positives in your life. Identifying positive elements can be hard at first, but don't give up. Whenever you catch yourself being negative, try to flip the phrase around into feeling something positive. 

17. Thank People, Especially Strangers

The main holiday in November is called Thanksgiving, after all, so why not give some thanks?

It can be easy to thank those we're close to, so try to reach out to people you may not be as comfortable with. Giving thanks is a simple way to feel better and benefits you as much as the other person. Consider thanking someone you don't get along well with, or even a stranger.

The next time someone lets you cut in front of them in line at the coffee shop, instead of muttering a quick "thank you" and moving on, give them a genuine smile. Make eye contact. Tell them sincerely that you're grateful. 

18. Give Back To Society

Volunteer your time

When we think of what we're thankful for, it often shines a bright light on the things that others don't have. We may be grateful for health and family, which then reminds us of those who are less fortunate.

Donating money, items, or even time to charity can be an excellent way to appreciate your blessings and keep our own lives in perspective4

19. Share Thanks at the Dinner Table

The classic Thanksgiving dinner routine is lovely. Going around the table and taking a brief moment to acknowledge aloud what everyone is thankful for can be powerful. However, there's no need to stop at Thanksgiving.

Keep the good vibes going all year long! You don't have to treat every meal like it's Thanksgiving, but make an effort to share what you appreciate in your life over dinner.

20. Give Gratitude for Our Planet

People doing community gardening

Be grateful for our planet that makes everything in our lives possible. Recycle, leave your car keys behind, or grow your food in a garden.

You don't have to be perfect; make an effort to do what you can to give back to the earth. Think critically about the corporations you support. Be the best planetary custodian you can. 

21. Smile and Be Kind

Above all else, smile and be kind. How you behave affects everyone around you, not just yourself. If you are grateful for those around you, show it by trying to be a positive influence on your environment. 

Hopefully, these tips will help you cultivate a little gratitude, not just this holiday season, but all year round. 

(1) Herbert W (2014 Jan) Ink on Paper: Some Notes on Note Taking
(2) Fritsche S (2017 July) An Atheist’s Prayer
(3) Thorpe M, MD, PhD (2017 July) 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation
(4) Anik L, Aknin L, Norton M, Dunn E (2009) Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior

Written by BioNeurix Editorial Team
Originally published 11/27/2019
Last updated 3/14/2021