The benefits of gratitude are manifold.
Studies show that practicing and experiencing gratitude boosts feelings of satisfaction, strengthens our relationships and drives us to help others.
Despite these benefits, we aren’t always able to express gratitude, sometimes because we’re too busy, other times because negative feelings overshadow the good in our lives.
Here are seven easy exercises that help us give thanks and fill our days with gratitude.
1. Schedule a gratitude visit
Is there someone in your past who changed your life for the better, either through words, actions or both?
If you know of such a person, write them a concise and honest letter identifying what they did to help you and how it affected you, says psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman in his book Flourish.
If the recipient lives close to you, arrange a meeting with them. Don’t tell them you’re bringing the letter, however.
Seligman says that by withholding the letter at first, you’ll make the exercise more fun.
When you’re ready, take your time reading the note without interruption to the person to whom you’re grateful. After, discuss it with them, and ask how they interpret it and how they feel about your relationship.
“When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life,” Seligman writes in Flourish. “But,” he continues, “sometimes our thank-you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.”
“In this exercise, ‘Gratitude Visit,’ you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner,” Seligman says.
2. Keep a gratitude journal, and make it personal
If you want to get the most out of journaling — and you’re motivated to become more grateful and happier — put time and effort into your gratitude journal.
Rather than writing phrases, elaborately document people you’re grateful for. By focusing on people (and not objects or events), you’ll be able to intimately jog memories and discuss them with the people you shared them with.
Then, think about what your life would have been like without that person; what effect have they had on you? Why are you grateful to know them? What positive contributions have they made to your life?
If you’re worried that journaling will be time-consuming, try completing entries just once per week.
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, studied gratitude journal writers and found that increases in well-being were present in those who wrote once a week rather than three times a week.
“This finding provides further evidence supporting the argument that not only can an intentional activity successfully increase happiness, but that the way that activity is implemented is critical,” she wrote.
As your journaling progresses, you should expect to find more resonance in your writings; they should become less general and more focused and personal, says Dr. Jennifer Strider, a naturopathic doctor specializing in mental health and emotional wellness.
“The writer will see how they have begun to embrace life and in turn found more positive things with which to surround themselves,” she says.