The Gift of Gratitude

wrapped in kraft paper gift for Valentine's Day with red hearts

From an early age, we’re taught to say, “Thank you.” It’s one of our first and most important lessons in etiquette. Parents coax the words out of their toddlers and later coerce older children into sitting down to write the dreaded thank-you note.

Often, we say thank you in response to a gift, a favor, or a kind deed. Saying thank you is an important way of acknowledging and appreciating people.

Feeling Grateful

Gratitude takes thank you to the next level. It is a deep sense of appreciation. To feel grateful is to feel warm, joyful, and blessed. We’ve all experienced moments where we’ve been overwhelmed by gratitude—perhaps even moved to tears. It is a powerful feeling and creates a rush of endorphins that lift us up.

Some people experience gratitude when they are out in nature. The sound of a rushing river, the sight of the sun setting over the ocean, a canopy of fall foliage—just some of the natural wonders that have a way of inducing a sense of calm and appreciation for the larger world.

Sometimes gratitude is the result of a random act of kindness from a stranger, or the ongoing support and love of a family member.

But, you don’t need to receive a gift or a favor to feel grateful; gratitude is a feeling you can cultivate. In fact, gratitude can become a habit.

An Attitude of Gratitude

You may remember your grandmother or another elder in your life reminding you to “count your blessings.” Grandma was onto something. Counting our blessings is a way of shifting into a positive mindset and seeing our glass as half full rather than half empty.

In fact, some research indicates that people who are grateful are healthier, happier, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives. They tend to have more positive coping strategies, better sleep, and healthier relationships.

Some people are more naturally inclined to feelings of gratitude—perhaps as a result of their upbringing or a religious or spiritual background. However, even if gratitude doesn’t come naturally to you, you can teach yourself to be grateful

Get Grateful

Life is full of paradoxes. It can be a roller coaster of experiences and emotions—joy, sorrow, tragedy, success, challenges, illness, vacations, stress, delight, and so much more. Sometimes things are easy, breezy, and fun—but not always. And the reality is, it’s not always easy to embrace and attitude of gratitude.

If you don’t feel particularly grateful, if life offers up challenges, or if you start to feel you have nothing to be grateful for, consider actively practicing gratitude. By practicing, you can actually induce the feeling. That’s right—fake it until you make it.

Here are some tips for cultivating gratitude in your life:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Each night before bed, write down five things for which you are grateful. At first, you may struggle to identify five things, but after only a few weeks, you’ll be filling an entire page. And remember, you can start small: your morning coffee, the roof over your head, the chance to see a friend or feel the sun on your face.
  • Meditate or pray. Spend time in quiet contemplation connecting to something larger than yourself.
  • Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and helps put us in a positive state of mind.
  • Spend time in nature. Spending time in the natural world allows us to develop an appreciation for life at its most basic level.
  • Make it a game. When you’re sitting in traffic or standing in line and you catch yourself feeling irritated and stressed, force yourself to take a deep breath, look around, and mentally list several things that make you feel grateful. You’ll feel an instant shift in your mood.

Gratitude is more than a simple act of etiquette—it’s an emotion, an attitude, a way of life. Try it; by tapping into a feeling of gratitude, you’ll start to notice just how much you truly have to be grateful for.