Gratitude practice helps you shift focus from pain to peace, hopelessness to joy. As the adage goes, what you focus on grows.
Daily life often feels chaotic and difficult. We may spend much of our day grinding through work and chores and worrying about tomorrow.
We may examine ourselves through a lens of shame—I should have done this thing, I’m not good enough at that thing, I wish I had this other thing—and worry what our perceived shortcomings mean for the future.
It’s easy to get swept up in negative thoughts that make us feel bad. Fortunately, gratitude practice can help us find balance and even daily joy. Better yet, it’s simple and quick. Read on to learn more.
Illustrated by Joseph Moore
What is gratitude practice?
To practice gratitude, you deliberately notice the things that make you feel good. You call out what is meaningful or valuable to you.
As you may have read on social media and other outlets, practicing gratitude benefits both your mind and body. Studies have found that it can reduce symptoms of depression and depression risk, improve sleep, and increase optimistic thoughts (1, 2). It’s also associated with decreased levels of cortisol (stress hormone), lower blood pressure and improved levels for other biomarkers associated with heart disease risk (3).
When you practice gratitude, you shift your focus away from negative thoughts. For a few moments, you put aside pain and appreciate what you have. It’s no wonder this feels good.
Simple ideas for gratitude practice
There is no one way to practice gratitude. However, it’s helpful to keep these guidelines in mind:
- Be specific. Instead of saying, “I’m grateful for my family,” pick one thing about one person and go deeper. You might say something like, “Emily has the most infectious laugh. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but laugh too. Her laugh brings me joy!”
- Make it unique. Try to appreciate something you haven’t already mentioned during a previous gratitude practice. You can talk about Emily again but notice something different about her this time.
- Make it tangible. Don’t just say it in your head—say it aloud, write it down, or express it in some other observable way.
If you live with kids and/or a partner, get them involved. Ask them to go around the table and say what they feel grateful for that day. Not only does this get you thinking about gratitude, but it might also start an interesting conversation. If you’re eating alone, you can say it aloud to yourself, your dog, your plate of food—whatever suits you.
Think about your day and write down three things for which you feel grateful. These can be big or small things, whatever comes to mind. Notice how you feel when you’re finished. How do you feel in your stomach and shoulders? Do you feel more content or relaxed? Any sparks of joy?
Go outside for a few minutes or longer. Walk slowly, breathe deeply, and focus on your senses—what do you see, smell, hear and feel? What do you appreciate? What feels good? If you have kids, this is a fun activity to share with them, too.
Write a letter to someone you appreciate. Tell them why you feel grateful for them and use specific examples. It’s up to you whether you share it with them.
Create a gratitude album on your phone. Add images that remind you of things for which you feel grateful. If you’re feeling crafty, you can print them out and make a collage.
We hope these ideas for practicing gratitude are useful to you. If you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, you might benefit from talking to a mental health professional. A licensed professional can assess your situation and help you access services that fit your needs.
For mental health care in Tennessee, contact Athena Care.
One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.
Rachel Swan, MS
Rachel has a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, where she spent 16 years as a Research Analyst in the Psychology and Human Development Department.