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Five Ways to Cultivate an "Attitude of Gratitude"

Being grateful, even for little things, can keep us going.

Key points

  • It takes some effort to remind oneself of one's blessings and cultivate an "attitude of gratitude."
  • Gratitude helps everyone see the big picture instead of staying entangled in the smaller details of their lives.
  • One way to cultivate gratitude is to focus on long-term goals instead of short-term challenges.

Thanksgiving is one of our most beloved holidays because of its associations with gatherings of loved ones and traditional foods that make it a truly special day. Of course, its very name implies that this day is set aside to express thankfulness for the blessings of this life.

What if we could make every day our personal Thanksgiving day? Well, we can. But it takes a bit of effort to remind ourselves of our blessings and to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude.”

Science shows the effort will pay off, not only by helping us to be healthier and happier but also by increasing our job satisfaction, boosting our immunity, and even getting better sleep.

Notice things. Let yourself be awed. Gratitude flows from these simple actions.
Source: John-ManuelAndriote/photo

I was reminded recently of the power of gratitude to stop negative thinking in its tracks and replace it with thoughts and feelings that bordered on—dare I say—the warm and fuzzy.

Starting off a Monday morning on the phone with my bank, frustrated about being scammed after a one-time online purchase became an unexpected $120-per-month subscription I didn’t want, I was at the beginning of a funk. The funky feeling snowballed into questioning why I had moved to Atlanta, and feeling unhappy because my new remote job isn’t providing social interaction with colleagues beyond our Zoom meetings.

Just when the woe-is-me pity party was about in full swing, my anxiety peaking, a thought crossed my mind. I recalled past success I’d had with hauling myself up and out of funks by turning the negative thoughts inside out. How? By using a seemingly small, yet mighty, tool: Gratitude.

I reminded myself of the many good things in my life. Of course, I began with feeling grateful for my good health. You become very aware of your health, and vulnerability, when you live with a serious medical condition—particularly after you have witnessed what happens to people who don’t have the life-saving medications that have turned the almost universally fatal illness you have into a chronic, manageable one. “When you have your health, you have everything,” said Augusten Burroughs, author of the 2002 bestseller Running With Scissors. “When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.”

Gratitude also helps you to look beyond what may be frustrating or even fearful circumstances, and see the big picture. It reminds you that your life is more than any one event, relationship—or ripoff scam. In fact, gratitude helps you feel good about your life.

How to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude”

Here are five ways you can cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” that will improve your life, starting immediately:

Count your blessings. Accentuate the positives in your life. Choose deliberately to focus on the good things instead of dwelling on the negatives. You will be amazed by how taking this step will help lighten your mood.

Focus on your long-term goals. Don’t trip yourself up by convincing yourself that the things challenging you now will never get better. Put one foot in front of the other, take one step forward at a time, and before you know it, you will have moved beyond your current challenges.

Notice the little things. We all know the admonition to “stop and smell the flowers.” Well, why not do it literally? Don’t just observe the beauty of the world around you, but actively see it, be mindful of it. Let yourself be awed by the colors of autumn. Delight like a child in the aromas of holiday food and the sparkle of holiday lights that will soon appear. Savor your life and you will discover its richness and feel grateful for it.

Show gratitude through your actions. Thank people for the things they do to help you or to make your life a little easier. It may be someone who works for you, or the person who bags your groceries. Sharing your gratitude with others is a sure way not only to help make their day, but to contribute the kind of positivity that draws others to you.

Keep a gratitude journal. This is a favorite tool of psychologists. By regularly reflecting in brief written entries on what you are grateful for—being as precise as possible (“I am grateful for the delicious dinner my friends served us tonight…and for those friends”)—you will expand your awareness of all you really have to be thankful for. It will also increase your sense of well-being and satisfaction with your life.

Clearly, gratitude supports our resilience by keeping us mindful of all the reasons we need to help us keep going. It makes the going better by making us aware, keeping us mindful, of the many wonderful things and people in our life that makes it rich and worth living.