Building More Joy With a Gratitude Practice

Noticing what's already good, right now, is one of the most effective ways to build more steady, inner joy.

Our brains are wired to notice bad things--bad emotions, bad interactions, and bad events. And we’re also wired to hang on to bad things. Almost all of us remember negative things more strongly and with more detail.

The good news? With a little consistent effort, we can offset those natural tendencies. One of the easiest and most fun ways is through a gratitude practice.

How to...

Get Clear on Gratitudes

Tip 1: Rewire your brain to make gratitude second-nature

Our brains are wired to notice and remember bad events, bad emotions, and bad interactions. Our tendency is to overlook the good. It's part of evolution and it's part of human nature.

Practicing gratitude is simply about training our brains to notice what's already good. But, we do have to do it often enough to rewire our brains.

Can you really rewire your brain? Yes. It's called neuroplasticity and it's one of the most incredible discoveries of our lifetimes.

Does this mean that we overlook problems and challenges? No--we still need to give them attention. And, we want to give attention to what's already good.

Tip 2: Gratitudes can be for anything--big or small

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See examples

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Tip 3: Try to vary the gratitudes. Explore what makes you grateful.

How to...

Do Gratitude Exercises

Idea 1: Take a moment to reflect on things as they happen

Super simple: Spend about five minutes writing them down.

Pick a time to do it, and leave a reminder.

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Idea 2: Write three gratitudes a day

Super simple: Spend about five minutes writing them down.

Idea 3: Write a Gratitude letter

Write a letter to someone. It can be in any form--a text, email, a paper letter. Whatever you choose, include concrete details.

For example, if you’re sending a text. Something nice to get (and to send):

You’re a great friend.

Even better, take it a step further, and add something concrete.

Thanks again for helping me figure out my next steps with my boss and helping me see things from different perspectives. You’re a great friend.

Or if you’re writing a letter, include details about what they did and how it affected your life:

Dear Mom,

I want to let you know what a role model you’ve been to me. When I was younger, I didn’t recognize how strong and brave you are, but now I do, and I see so many ways that you’ve influenced who I am today. Like the time when that guy hit our car and said it was because we were driving too slowly, so you...

It doesn’t have to be elaborate, you can send a thoughtful text in two minutes

This has impact in so many ways: As you write it, you feel the gratitude, you feel the joy of sending it, and what an uplifting surprise for the person who receives it.

Idea 4: A fun way to look for the good, randomly

A group gratitude board is a simple way to build a little more connection and gratitude as a group.

You can make a spot for your family or your coworkers to write gratitudes. Whenever they’re feeling it or as things comes to mind--this is a spot to jot down something they’re grateful for.

If you're in person, you can use a big sheet of paper, or a corkboard, post-it notes on the wall,

If you're not physically in the same place, you can do a digital version in a shared document--there’s a lot of ways to be creative here

It takes maybe 5-10 minutes to get started.

Idea 5: Do a small thought experiment and ask "What if I didn't have this?"

We get used to good things really fast and tend to take them for granted.

One practice to try is thinking about what life would be like without this thing.

Resources and Citations

  1. "Empirical findings... self-reported happiness and life satisfaction... The consistent and perhaps surprising result is that most people in most circumstances most of the time score above the scale midpoint, whether they are multimillionaires in the United States or pavement dwellers in Calcutta... Robust correlates: Number of friends; Being married; Being extroverted; Being grateful; Being religious; Pursuing leisure activities; Employment (not income)... Having good relationships with other people is the most important contributor to a satisfied life and may even be a necessary condition for happiness. Having a "best friend" at work is a strong predictor of satisfaction and even productivity. A good relationship is one in which the amount of positive communication considerably outweighs the amount of negative communication." Sadock, Benjamin J., et al. Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry. United States, Wolters Kluwer Health, 2014.: