Tips for Adulthood: Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude


On occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

Thanksgiving is shortly to be upon us in the United States. And though the holiday is now more associated with family gatherings and food, it is meant to be a time when we celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the past year.

A lot has been written about the putative health benefits of gratitude. It’s meant to be a great way to make friends…feel less envious…even to sleep better.

I buy all of that that. I always feel better when I’ve thanked someone for something they’ve done. I also feel great when someone acknowledges me for a good deed. Where I fall down is in remembering to express gratitude on a regular basis.

Here are five quick, easy ways to build gratitude into your daily life:

a. Start a Gratitude Journal.  I’ve read about gratitude journals for ages and I know some people swear by them. The concept is really simple: at the end of the day, you set aside five  minutes to focus on things that made you happy that day and to reflect on why they made you happy. I’ve never done one myself. (I have too many other journals in my life!) But the Headspace mindfulness app I use every morning is a really useful tool for cultivating gratitude. Many of the meditations there begin by asking you to identify who will benefit directly from your personal reflection on anger/stress/fill-in-the-blank. There’s also a meditation about appreciation in which you are asked to write down three things you’re grateful for each day.

b. Ask your spouse/partner what you can do for them today.  I love this idea. I’m stealing it from Richard Paul Evans, who once wrote a now-viral blog post about how he saved his marriage. Evans chose one day to put aside whatever anger and frustration he was feeling towards his wife and instead asked her a simple question: “How can I make your life better?” At first, he found himself cleaning the garage and attending to other household chores. Over time, however, he and his wife both started asking each other this question each morning and their relationship improved immeasurably. They realized that what they most wanted and needed to do was spend more time together.

c. Praise a child for a very specific act.  As a parent, it can be hard to resist the temptation to constantly coach your kids. It’s easy to notice what they’re doing wrong or not well enough, rather than what they do right. And before you know it, you’re treating your children more like a project to fix, rather than as human being. If you’ve ever gone to a parenting seminar, they’ll tell you to heap praise on anything little kids do right in very specific terms. But that’s also good advice if you’ve got teenagers. Don’t just say, “Hey thanks for cleaning up!” Instead, say: “Thank you so much for putting your dishes in the dishwasher after dinner; that really helps me out after a busy day.” The specificity of the praise is much more likely to resonate than criticizing them for not also doing the pots and pans!

d. Give your colleague a thank you card.  When I left my last job, one of my colleagues gave me a thank you card in which she thanked me for all that she’d learned from me. I was truly bowled over. It’s completely natural to give someone a “goodbye” card when they leave the office, but a “thank you” card is that much more special. I plan to do this myself the next time I need to say good-bye to someone at work, so that I can tell them how they impacted me professionally.

e. Recognize people on Social Media. Social media can be a great place to give a shout out to others. Whenever you share someone else’s post, you are implicitly thanking them. But there are other. more specific ways of showing gratitude online. On Twitter, for example, you can use the hashtag #Followfriday (#FF) to list people you think are worth following, and explain *why* you follow them. It’s a lovely way of expressing gratitude to strangers and giving them public recognition.

What other simple ways of expressing gratitude in your life have you found?

Image: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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