Practicing Gratitude Beyond Your Journal

03/01/2019 Personal Growth Personal Growth Happiness

Expressing gratitude can be done with a daily journal, but think beyond the pages and begin to feel and practice gratitude in more challenging places and times.

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Gracias. Thank you. Grazie. Merci. Arigato. Most learn early on the power of a simple expression of “thanks.” Besides just being good manners, saying thank you can transform your day and that of those around you. Where gratitude exists, human connection flourishes. Being thanked, in a genuine, meaningful way helps you feel seen. When you feel seen, appreciated for something you have done, or noticed for how you have served, your self-esteem increases. When you feel good about yourself and recognize that you matter, you are kinder, more confident, and your relationships are more satisfying.

Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude is a hot topic in the wellness world. And for good reason! Multitudes of benefits have been found from intentionally focusing on that for which you are thankful. Whether you practice focusing on the things you appreciate on a daily or weekly basis, gratitude is good for your health. Some benefits of a regular gratitude practice include:

  • Increased well-being and life satisfaction
  • Stronger immune system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better sleep
  • Fewer feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Increased capacity for compassion

According to psychology professor Roger Emmons, author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, gratitude magnifies positive emotions, blocks toxic emotions, cultivates stress resistance, and leads to higher sense of self-worth.

How to Practice Gratitude

It’s possible you have already been keeping a gratitude journal. Each evening, do you write down three things you are thankful for? Do you conjure an image of someone you are thankful for each morning before you step out of bed? Got a gratitude jar? Perhaps you already send thank-you cards after receiving a gift? Maybe you show your thanks all the time! Many approaches to creating a gratitude practice encourage doing these types of activities intentionally and often. Maintaining this positive social emotion while confronting life’s daily challenges and the world’s urgent unrest takes dedication, devotion, and practice, practice, practice.

Many topics regarding the practice of gratitude have been researched and shared. Perhaps you have read the tips for finding gratitude in your hardest moments, practiced yoga poses to inspire gratitude in your heart, and worked on advanced gratitude-cultivating journaling techniques. The general idea of this particular approach, practicing gratitude in all the right places, is to carry the simple, powerful words of thank you into your everyday interactions.

The gist is to actively choose gratitude at every moment possible. Choosing gratitude means taking a few moments to breathe and gather your thoughts before talking, texting, or replying. Choosing gratitude means choosing optimism. Choosing gratitude means finding the good whenever possible. You will slip up. There will be times that you will get overwhelmed by the powerful emotions that you face as a human: sadness, fear, anger, and jealousy. There will be times that are not immediately appropriate for gratitude; grief and trauma have their own timelines. However, setting the intention to practically and actively practice gratitude whenever possible, sets you up for success.

The following is a list of some practical ways of practicing gratitude in all the right places: when it seemingly matters the least and, in fact, could matter the most. Sometimes it’s truly not enough to just say thank you. But it can sure mean a lot!

Where to Practice: At the Grocery Store

Why: The colors, sounds, and sensory stimulation of the grocery store or food mart can be overwhelming. There are other shoppers everywhere, stray carts to avoid, and intense decisions to be made about what to buy! The abundance of food choices, the exchanging of monies, and the likely chance that you’re in a hurry can lead to grocery store anxiety. Fear not, gratitude to the rescue!

How: Instead of focusing on the challenges you may face at the market, consider all the elements that you could choose be grateful for: the wide-eyed child experiencing a juicy piece of stone fruit for the first time, the plentiful nourishing foods available year round in the aisles, the fact that you remembered your reusable cloth bags (!), or the sweet, familiar greeting of the cashier. When you decide to look for all the things at the store to be grateful for, you’re sure to find several! 

What It Looks Like: Next time you are at the grocery store or farmer’s market, try the following gratitude-in-all-the-right-places suggestions. Smile at your fellow shoppers and silently remember that they’re in the same boat as you (most likely: hungry, tired, and longing to get home ASAP). Silently send thanks to the grocery store staff who stocked the shelves, the truck drivers who delivered the items, the farm or factory workers who packaged the goods, the farmers who grew the essential ingredients, and the earth for nourishing us all. And instead of rolling your eyes at the slow bagger or the person with a million items in their cart, take the opportunity for a few deep breaths and think of three additional things in your life for which you are grateful. An attitude of gratitude can shift your shopping experience!

Where to Practice: With Your Friendships

Why: It can be surprisingly easy to take your most precious relationships for granted. It seems that friendships come and go. Close friendships and new acquaintances have their ups and downs and can be just as emotionally taxing as your intimate relationships. Fear not, gratitude to the rescue!

How: Take a close look at whom your dearest friends are. Make a list or scroll through your most recent text message conversations. Consider some times when your friends—aka chosen family—have stepped up to the plate. Conjure up the feelings that go along with these instances of kindness or assistance. When you look at whom you truly have in your life to be grateful for, you’re likely to find more people in your life for whom to be grateful.

What It Looks Like: Next time you get together with a buddy, try the following gratitude-in-all-the-right-places suggestions. During the get together tell your friend explicitly how thankful you are for your time together. Give them details of how much something they did for you meant or how grateful you are that they showed up for you when you really needed them. Be specific! At the end of the get together say something like: “Thank you for being you. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for being such a good friend.” And after the get together, send a quick text of gratitude: “Thank you for getting together. Thank you for making time for me.” Your simple words may just make your friend’s day!

Where to Practice: At Work

Why: The day-to-day responsibilities, the never-ending to-do lists, and that nagging wanderlust for a career more in line with your dharma can be wearing. The managerial duties that pile up, feelings of boredom or purposelessness, and self-doubt can certainly be draining. Fear not, gratitude to the rescue!

How: Look for the small and large things for which you can be thankful at work. First, consider the fact that you have a job to go to! Many people are looking for work or are working several at a time. Second, consider the paycheck you have coming that helps put a roof over your head and pay your bills. Find solace in the fact that your work provides you sustenance. Finally, list the ways in which you contribute to your team or community through your work. When you stop to consider how you serve, you may find gratitude.

What It Looks Like: Next time you find an opportunity at work, try the following gratitude-in-all-the-right-places suggestions. Stop by your coworker’s desk and say a simple thanks, even out of the blue: “Thank you. I see how hard you’re working. I appreciate you and all that you do here!” In her book Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts, research professor Brené Brown encourages you to be brave enough to take the risk of connecting with each other at work. It doesn’t take long! It can be a quick email or note. If you’re in a position to do so, host a staff appreciation party and reward your coworkers for their work on a project, no matter the outcome or current status of progress. Let people know that you see them, that you acknowledge their efforts and time, and that you’re glad they are there. When people feel good, they do better. And gratitude feels good!

Where to Practice: While Driving/Transporting

Why: Road rage, slippery roads, and drivers who are distracted all create the potential for a worrisome drive. Never mind that you’re hurtling down the highway in a 4,000-pound hunk of steel with the great responsibility of carrying the precious cargo of human life! Fear not, gratitude to the rescue!

How: Find a sense of gratitude for your car (or the car that’s transporting you) and the freedom this affords you. Most people in the world do not have cars! What a privilege! Thank your beautiful body for your physical ability to drive (or even be transported to places outside your home). Invoke a sense of thankfulness for the ancient fossil fuels powering your vehicle and your ability to pay for insurance, gas, and maintenance. You may even consider thanks for the workers and local laws that help maintain safe roads for you to drive to and fro.

What It Looks Like: Next time you are driving your car or being transported via rideshare, try the following gratitude-in-all-the-right-places suggestions. Instead of getting worked up from your negative emotions and flustered in traffic and leaning on the horn, take a few deep breaths and think about how lucky you are to have time to yourself to listen to an inspiring podcast. Or finally call your sister back on Bluetooth! If you wish to offer your gratitude out, send a wave or a nod of thanks to the driver who lets you over before your exit. You just never know, that person could have had a bad day and your simple act of gratitude perked them up. In turn that person takes a deep breath and makes it home safely where they are kinder to their family. The feeling of gratitude has a ripple effect! Be the pebble.  

Though it may seem too simple to be true, practicing gratitude is one of the most effective antidotes to anxiety, fear, and sadness. The more grateful you are for the things and people you have in your life, the more things and people you have to be grateful for. So start practicing now: in line at the grocery store, waiting at a red light, and even when you’re triggered. Choose gratitude whenever possible (hint: it’s always possible) and see how your happiness and overall life transforms!

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About the Author
woman smiling in yoga pose

Lena Schmidt

Certified Yoga Instructor
Whether it’s exploring the local trails, playing pretzel on the yoga mat, or diving into a book on inner peace, Lena loves an adventure. You can find her teaching yoga in San Diego, leading retreats near and far, and empowering others to be the change they wish to see in the world. Learn more about Lena at www.yoginilena.com The spiritual aspects of yoga have aided Lena in the never-ending search for peace, calm, and positivity within, and she’s passionate about sharing these tools with others. She is intentional about taking yoga off the mat and loves finding the bridges between the heart and mind, the individual and community, and mindfulness and expression...Read more