When we hear the word gratitude, what comes to mind? For most of us, gratitude is something we tend to experience sporadically and at random moments of our day. During our daily rush of getting the kids to soccer practice in time and making sure dinner’s ready, rarely do we stop and think about what this word actually means for us. If you look at the definition of the word, it’s simple enough: “the quality of being thankful, a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. Seems obvious, right? Most of the time, we do show our appreciation for others when they help us. And while it is true that we can show gratitude at certain moments, there’s a definition of the word coined by a social researcher named Brené Brown that I prefer to use:
“Gratitude is a practice of expressing thankfulness and appreciation. Practicing gratitude is bound to the belief in human interconnectedness, a spiritual way of engaging with the world, and a power greater than us. Without gratitude, there is no joy.”
While the first definition established a literal meaning of the word, I find this one acknowledges that gratitude exists as more than just a fleeting emotion. So when we think about the impact of this principle on our lives, we look to the three powerful ways it shapes us:
1. It is a mindset and gives us the choice to act.
Gratitude is a verb and a habit. When we decide to live our lives through the lens of gratitude, it is not isolated to one aspect of our lives; it is a mindset that can be applied to any situation at any given time.
2. It impacts how we view the world and those around us.
Not only does gratitude affect our own mindset, but it impacts our relationships, both close and casual. When we are appreciative of the connections we form, we develop a deeper understanding of our current relationships and approach our new ones with a new perspective.
3. It impacts how we feel.
Another impact is the way it challenges our fears and negative emotions. It becomes impossible to truly live in a mindset of gratitude while holding onto our old narratives of what “isn’t possible” or “isn’t working”. It also serves as a gateway to positive emotions, especially joy, as Brené Brown points out.
Now that we’ve established the impact of experiencing gratitude, we go one step further. What would happen if we made a choice to practice gratitude, even during the moments when we didn’t feel we had any reason to? And if we decide to do that, where do we start?
1. It must first be a conscious process.
Look at how we’ve described this concept in the last few points - in particular, stating how we “decide” to live our lives with gratitude. It’s not something that is innate and without effort; it requires deliberate reframing to decide to look at our lives with more gratitude. Of course, when we find ourselves in times of stress and difficulties, it can be very challenging to see the good in our lives. However, consciously deciding to try is the first step in working towards creating this mindset. As you engage in this more, it eventually becomes more of a habit and more automatic.
2. Explore ways to engage in your awareness of what you appreciate.
As Brené says in her definition, gratitude is often connected to spirituality. One thing that is great about spirituality is that there are many different ways to practice depending on your beliefs, preferences, and needs. Here are a few examples of simple ways to practice this:
a) Prayer or other forms of “quiet time”, such as going out in nature
No matter your belief system, there is a great benefit to taking time to tap into your inner guidance. For some, connecting with their spirituality is through prayer, and for others, it can be through connecting with nature.
Another great way to form habits is by putting our thoughts on paper. I myself did this practice for about a year, taking every morning to jot down three things I was grateful for. Some days it was easy to think of things, and some days it was really difficult to do. But by making a habit of engaging in such a short practice every morning, I noticed a shift in how I moved through the world. It also helped me connect to joy much more quickly, because I started my day off on a much more positive note.
Sometimes the idea of meditation can feel a bit daunting, but there are a few ways to get yourself started. There are many apps to explore for guided meditation, and you can do it any time of the day. The key benefit of meditation comes from the repetition of it, as you will most likely see and feel the impact cumulatively.
d) Write cards to loved ones
Another great way to practice gratitude is by showing appreciation for our loved ones. One method I personally still love is getting a heartfelt card in the mail. A small gesture like this brightens my day and feels so personal without taking much time out of our lives. Gratitude isn’t just something we can incorporate into our own lives, but also experience it through sharing it with others.
e) Communicate your appreciation to others
Following the last point, one of the best ways to practice gratitude is to express it to others and share it freely. Many people often feel pressure to make a large gesture or something very “big” in order for it to matter. However, it can be as small a gesture as letting a friend know you appreciate them or reaching out to an older neighbor. It is often the gestures we think don’t matter that actually have the greatest impact on others, because it can be very easy to forget about the “little things”.
Like any other routine, practicing gratitude is all about creating consistency in how we live our lives and choose to view the world around us. Not only is it able to spark joy, but it helps us to re-center and prioritize our day. As we all know, life can be full of stress and make it easy to lose track of ourselves - but that is what makes practicing gratitude all the more important. If we can combat the mental chatter and outside noise we often face with the conscious decision to choose gratitude, we stay focused on what’s most important to us.
Brown, Brené. Atlas of the Heart. Random House, 2021.
“Gratitude Definition & Meaning.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gratitude.