A practical guide to gratitude

(so you can see and think differently)

In a stuck moment, it’s hard to see positive forces when obstacles are blaring and fears are looming. This is a good time to be grateful. Not grateful for what has us stuck, but appreciating what doesn’t. Gratitude helps us see our situation in a way that can lessen panic and open up our thinking to new solutions.

Thing is, people aren’t hardwired to be grateful. And, like any skill worth having, gratitude requires practice. There are three stages, says Dr. Robert Emmons, author of "Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier": recognizing what we’re grateful for, acknowledging it, and appreciating it. Simple, right? And the benefits of practicing gratitude can be life altering.

Gratitude puts situations into perspective. When we can see the good as well as the bad, it becomes more difficult to complain and stay stuck.

Gratitude helps us realize what we have. The awareness of what we're grateful for can lessen our tendency to want more all the time.

Gratitude makes us happier. Gratitude strengthens relationships, improves health, reduces stress, and, in general, makes us happier, according to Dr. Emmons, who explains his research in this video.

9 ways to cultivate gratitude

1

Notice your day-to-day world from a point of gratitude and be amazed at all the goodness we take for granted.

2

Keep a gratitude journal. All it requires is noting one or more things you are grateful for on a daily basis. No fancy notebook, no computer program required.

3

If you identify something or someone with a negative trait (the cold conference room), switch it in your mind to a positive trait (the conference room with a great view).

4

Gratitude requires humility, which the dictionary defines as being "modest and respectful." Explore where it fits in your life.

5

Give at least one compliment daily, whether directly to a person or by sharing your appreciation of something ("I love how quiet it is in the morning, don’t you?").

6

When you find yourself in a bad situation ask: What can I learn? When I look back on this, without emotion, what will I be grateful for?

7

Vow to not complain, criticize, or gossip for a week. If you slip, rally your willpower and keep going. Notice how much energy you were spending on negative thoughts.

8

Sound genuinely happy to hear from the people who call you on the phone. Whether they respond with surprise or delight, they'll feel valued.

9

Join a cause that's important to you. Donate money, time, or talent. By getting involved, you’ll better appreciate the organization — and it will appreciate you more, too.

The power of paying a compliment

When Mark Twain said, “I can live two months on a good compliment,” he only told half the story. While the person who receives the praise enjoys feeling noticed and valued (and is motivated to do more of the same), the giver can also bask in the connection. With every compliment given, a bond is strengthened, trust is built, and conversation encouraged. Potent stuff!

Here are five dos and don’ts to make the most of giving and receiving of admiration:

  • DO be genuine. False praise is easy to spot, and it undermines your trustworthiness.
  • DON’T give back-handed compliments, such as “You throw a ball well
    for a girl.”
  • DO be as specific as possible. Vague: “I like how you redid your living room.” Specific: “I like the color choice of your living room walls. It’s a perfect accent with the rug and drapes.”
  • DON’T brush off a compliment given to you. It’s like returning a gift.
  • DO smile and say thank-you when you receive a compliment.

Gratitude gizmos

Special equipment isn’t necessary for practicing gratitude — the real work goes on in your head and heart. But if using a tool is helpful, go for it. Here are a handful of apps and websites that specialize in appreciation.

Gratitude Revealed: Filmmaker Louie Schwarzberg explores the many sides of being thankful in 15 gorgeous videos.

Gratitude Journal for iPhone, Gratitude Plus for iPad: Apps that encourage you to write at least five good things daily, add photos, and rate the day.

The Gratitude Jar: This site lets you share what you’re grateful for with the world and view others’ gratitude statements for inspiration.

Red Stamp: This iOS app will send personalized cards and notes any way you like: email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and paper mail.