Practices and tips for Expressing Gratitude
Keep a gratitude journal.
Since ancient times, philosophers and sages from every spiritual tradition have taught that cultivating gratitude is a key to experiencing deeper levels of happiness, fulfillment, and well-being.
One of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice was Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:
Who or what inspired me today?
What brought me happiness today?
What brought me comfort and deep peace today?
This practice can help us find more meaning and joy in our lives and lead us to experience profound inner transformation.
As you write in your journal, challenge yourself by not repeating items from the previous days, for this will make you look more deeply at all the “little” things that enhance your life and give you joy: waking in a warm bed; your favorite song; a phone call from a friend; the ability to touch, see, or hear; electricity; the beating of your heart; a hug.
You can write in your journal just before bed, when you wake up in the morning or just before you meditate. The time of day isn’t important; what is important is that you consistently take a few moments to consciously focus your mind on your blessings. Commit to keeping the journal for a month. What we put our attention on expands in our life. By offering gratitude for all the goodness we experience, we’re inviting the universe to give us more and more of what we want.
Write a thank you letter.
Make a list of at least five people who have had a profound impact on your life. Choose one and write a thank you letter expressing gratitude for all the gifts you’ve received from that person. If possible, deliver your gratitude letter in person.
In studies of people who have practiced this form of gratitude, the results have been amazing. Often the recipient of the letter had no idea what an impact he or she had had on another person and were deeply touched by the expression of such authentic gratitude.
While we may often thank people verbally, the written word can often be even more powerful because someone has taken the time to write their appreciation. A letter can also be re-read and treasured, creating joy and love that will continue to ripple out into the universe.
Take a gratitude walk
This is a particularly useful practice when you’re feeling down or filled with stress and worry. Set aside 20 minutes (or longer if you can) and walk in your neighborhood, through a park, around your office, or somewhere in nature.
As you walk, consider the many things for which you are grateful: loving relationships, material comforts, the body that allows you to experience the world, the mind that allows you to really understand yourself, and your essential spiritual nature. Breathe, pause, and be grateful for the air that is filling your lungs and making your life possible.
Pay attention to your senses—everything you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and maybe even tasting—and see how many things you can find to feel grateful for. This is a powerful way to shift your mood and open to the flow of abundance that always surrounds you.
This is a spiritual practice that gains momentum over time and with practice. If you are like me you will have days where you can find every reason under the sun why you can’t possibly do it. (Isn’t putting the rubbish out much more important?!)
Gratitude doesn’t seem to come as easily as grumbling does, and you will likely resist this exercise until the cows come home, as they say in New Zealand. Waiting for the resistance to pass is futile. Just do it.
I have learnt from this experience that even when you can hardly summon up the energy to shift into gratitude—even when you have to force yourself to begin, it still has magnetizing power.
So do it. Sit down with pen and paper or at your computer and start, “I am grateful for …” Maybe you will have to stop there for a minute and wait because you just can’t think of anything. But just wait. Surrender to the moment. Something inside you will shift. The words will come.
This force that you are tapping into is bigger than you and it is bigger than your problem, no matter how big that is. That tide of fear that is overwhelming you is not all there is. There is so much more to you than that.
Your gratitude list is a bridge across those troubled waters to a resting place on the other side.
3. Write it down.
Sometimes, if we were both very busy, we would tell each other what we were grateful for during our daily phone conversation. For some reason I never felt this had as much power as writing. There was just something about the energy that seemed to surround the written list that set it apart.
4. Feel it.
Some days you will write without feeling a shred of gratitude. That’s ok. Just do it anyway. And when you can summon up the feeling of gratitude in your heart, let it percolate through every cell in your body. Embody it. Place your hands on your heart. Raise your head, lift your body up, and raise your arms.
Move into the feeling. Dance it. Sing it. Aspire to a fullness of heart, no matter what is going on around you.
5. Choose a set time of day.
You may want to do this when you first wake in the morning or late at night before you go to sleep. This is a tricky one for us since we live in different time zones. The best we can manage is that she usually writes her list to me while I am asleep and I usually write my list to her while she is asleep.
6. Practice present-moment gratitude.
As you move through your day, pause now and then when you remember, and think as you do something “I am grateful.”
I like to do this with my morning cup of tea. Try touching your tea or coffee cup with gentle love and appreciation before you take your first sip. Moving through your day with awareness and grace in this way will mean that when you do sit down to write your gratitude list those things will come to mind.
7. Share the gratitude.
Partner with someone. You may not have a life partner half a world away as I do (lucky you!) but find someone to partner with. You will keep each other going and that sense of obligation to that person will give you the push you need to write your list on those days when it just seems too hard.
Reading what the other person has written helps you to access your own gratitude more easily, and it is fun to watch your gratitude email grown longer and longer and longer! You can see your progress.
8. Don’t stop once you start to see results!
When we first began to see results we thought we’d take a break from gratitude for a while. We quickly saw though that the energy surrounding our recovery would then start to lag and lose some of its oomph. So we’d drag ourselves back into the practice again and, as if by magic, our recovery would regain its momentum.
9. Allow yourself to be human.
Grumble if you must. Miss the odd day here and there. Write “I am grateful I am writing my gratitude list” five times if you can think of nothing else. We sometimes went three or four days without writing.
We would deal with that by either playing catch up—writing a few days in one—or by just letting those few days go and starting back again where we left off. Beware the little voice that says “You’ve missed a day. You’ve failed miserably at being grateful!” Ignore it. Get back up on your horse and keep riding!