There are many ways to develop and build the gratitude muscle. Here are a few easy exercises to get started.
1. Keep a daily gratitude journal: All it takes is a notebook, a pen or pencil, and a few moments to reflect over the day and think about what moments stood out. Keeping the journal in one place and connecting it with another daily habit (like getting into bed) will help to establish a routine.
There are general categories we might be thankful for such as: family, good health, a job, a cozy home, friends. Examining the events of each individual day brings attentiveness, noticing the little things that make each day unlike any before or to come.
A gratitude journal is personal, but it does not have to be. Last summer I started sharing mine on Facebook and asking others, “How was your day?” or “What were you thankful for?” Responses are sometimes serious, sometimes playful, often surprising.
2. Send someone a free gratitude gram: The increasing popularity of gratitude is driving new, creative, and communal ways to express it. Whether you are ready to commit to a gratitude journal or not, you can give that muscle a little flex and maybe make someone’s day by sharing your grateful thoughts with someone you care about.
3. Say thank you to people in daily life: It’s easy to say “thanks” to the clerk handing you coffee through the drive-through window, or a teen bagging your groceries or someone holding a door open for you. It’s just as easy to say “thank you” to the people in your life. Thanking a spouse for making your coffee. Thanking a co-worker for encouraging you to try again. Thanking your children for their help in folding the towels.
4. Be grateful for the hard stuff, too: This year with COVID-19, it has been a challenge for many of us. On top of that I had a car accident. We were all mandated to stay home, and it changed our entire routines. But it’s been a great time to organize closets, and drawers, and finish a book I have been writing for two years. This has been a year full of gratitude, even if I could not see it at the time.
5. Write a letter to someone who has helped you: Mentors are an obvious choice, whether it’s someone who’s given you a recent career boost or the teacher who helped you love books by reading to you after lunch in fifth grade. Maybe it’s the cheerfulness and amazing memory of the worker at your local coffee shop. Writing a letter to tell that person, in detail, what you are thankful for, will not only make their day, it will probably make yours too.
It’s been many years since I started a gratitude journal, and I have learned along the way, gratitude is a muscle that likes to be exercised. And believe it or not, it’s habit-forming, in the very best possible way.
Lisa Alexander is a freelance writer