Five ways to grow gratefulness

“It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”

It’s hard to be grateful. We’re not naturally grateful creatures. As children, we are taught to say “thank you” when we’re given something. As adults, we hide behind a veneer of polite manners, but our hearts are still childlike; we think we deserve what we have and we’re owed more.

We still need to learn how to give thanks.

Like any good habit, it requires attention to develop. But having a strong gratitude practice is much more powerful than we give it credit for. Studies by psychology Professor Robert Emmons have revealed that people who practise gratitude tend to have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, more joy, optimism, and happiness, a tendency to act with more generosity and compassion, and reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Sounds great, wouldn’t you agree?

Even on your darkest days, you will find something to give thanks for.

Gratitude also plays a huge role in our relationship with God. He wants us to give thanks to him, to acknowledge him as the source of all the blessings we have, to be so thankful it bursts out in song. The Psalms brim over with thanksgiving (eg Psalm 28:6-7, 30:11-12, 100:4-5). The Apostle Paul tells us that we should “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Is it any wonder that our good and loving God has imbued gratitude – something he wants us to do, always – with so many psychological and physical benefits?

How to practise gratitude

1. Write down one or two things that you’re grateful for every single day

It can be big or small, a person or an object, a mood or a memory … anything!

The act of writing things down and being specific is important. Using a diary or a particularly nice notebook gives the routine its own pleasure.

2. Keep going … every day!

When you start, sometimes even noting down one thing you’re grateful for each day can feel strange: it can feel a bit cheesy or simplistic. Some days you won’t immediately feel grateful for anything. But this is the point of the practice – as you do it regularly, you will start to notice more things that you’ll want to give thanks for.

Soon you’ll find that the gratitude comes naturally and what seemed clunky at first is now effortless and joyous. Even on your darkest days, you will find something to give thanks for.

3. Look back

Each month stop and reflect, and take a moment to look over the things you’ve written down that month. You’ll be astonished by all the good things that have happened that you’d already forgotten about.

4. Spread it around

Who are you grateful for? Send them a text message. Call them. Write them a short note and pop it in the post. A friend of mine, in her 50th birthday year, decided she would send cards to 50 people she was grateful for. Spreading your gratefulness will not only increase your own gratefulness, it may just make someone else’s day (and be what they write in their own gratefulness journal that day!)

5. Watch this

David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk and interfaith scholar who writes on the “gentle power” of gratefulness. In 2013 TED talk (TED is a media conference showcasing what it believes are “ideas worth spreading”) he said, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”