The secret to happiness lies in being grateful. Follow these expert tips to learn how to practice gratitude every day.
Grateful people are happy people. This was one of the top findings of the Harvard Adult Development Study, the longest-running study on happiness and health in the world, spanning 100 years and two generations of Americans. What’s more, grateful people live longer and are healthier overall. This means that learning how to practice gratitude is one of the best things you can do for yourself, says the current director of the study, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, MD.
Why? The answer is pretty simple: Being grateful focuses your attention on what you have, rather than what you don’t, and reminds you about all that is good in your life. It also has another, less-obvious benefit, according to Dr. Waldinger, who co-authored The Good Life, a book that divulges the secrets to happiness, based on the Harvard study. “Gratitude is one of the best tools we have for strengthening relationships, and our relationships with others are the strongest factor in determining happiness,” he explains, adding that being grateful is one of the simplest and easiest things you can do to increase your happiness—and the effect is almost instantaneous.
So if you want to know how to be happy, learn how to practice gratitude in your life every day. This can include doing gratitude meditations (one of Dr. Waldinger’s favorites!), writing thank-you notes, gratitude journaling in a gratitude journal and reading gratitude quotes. Keep reading for even more tips for practicing gratitude and becoming a happier you.
What is gratitude?
Before you learn how to practice gratitude, be sure you understand the concept. So, what does gratitude mean, exactly?
Gratitude is the positive feeling of being thankful for someone or something. But in practice, it’s so much more than that, says Canadian psychologist Haley Perlus, PhD.
“Gratitude is a productive emotional training tool. When you are grateful for your life, you can experience the positive and pleasant feelings associated with happiness, peace, passion, excitement and love. These pleasant emotions can then be a catalyst for positive changes in your life,” she explains. “Gratitude is also the opposite of our negative inner voice. It disrupts negative patterns and creates an opportunity to focus on all the good in one’s past, present and future.”
Why is gratitude important?
Science has proven over and over again that gratitude provides powerful physical and mental health benefits, says Dr. Waldinger. Being grateful can help prevent disease, and being thankful can even help you live longer.
Some of gratitude’s greatest benefits include:
Lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and other lifestyle diseases
Stronger immune system
Sharper memory and less mental decline with aging
Higher-quality sleep and less insomnia
Reduced perception of chronic pain
Less inflammation in the body
Better mood and less incidence of depression and anxiety
Higher self-confidence and fewer feelings of anger, jealousy and envy
Greater ability to forgive yourself and others
Better ability to prioritize and manage time
7 ways to practice gratitude
Being grateful is a learned skill—and one you can get better at with practice, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you at first, says Perlus. Ready to practice gratitude in your everyday life? Try the simple, expert-approved tips below.
- Say what you’re grateful for out loud
Vocalizing what you’re grateful for can be more impactful than simply thinking it, says Perlus. Hearing yourself say it aloud helps cement it in your memory, and articulating it helps you identify what aspect of the experience you are grateful for.
How to practice gratitude: Use Voice Memos or another app to dictate what you’re grateful for (and save the recordings so you can go back and listen when you need a little moment of joy). Or encourage the family to share something they’re grateful for each evening at dinner.
- Write down what you’re grateful for
Putting your thoughts on paper, whether that’s in a gratitude journal or a thank-you note, is a powerful way to connect your mind and your body, reinforcing the positive feelings.
How to practice gratitude: Keep a notebook in your purse or desk to jot down things you’re grateful for as they happen. Or try gratitude journaling: Write three things you’re grateful for every day in a journal you keep by your bed.
- Share your gratitude with others
Sharing your gratitude has an immense effect on both you and others, triggering a cascade of happy thoughts and feelings while also strengthening your bond. Even people who said thank-you to a stranger reported a strong feeling of happiness, adds Dr. Waldinger.
How to practice gratitude: Make a conscious effort every single day to tell someone how grateful you are for them. Call a parent, write a thank-you note to an old teacher, give a friend a thank-you gift or simply thank the cashier at the grocery store.
- Meditate on gratitude
People often make the mistake of assuming feelings control the mind—that how we feel determines what we think about. In reality, your mind dictates what you feel, says Dr. Waldinger. So focusing your mind on gratitude by doing a daily meditation is one of the best ways to feel more grateful in your life.
How to practice gratitude: Simply put, thinking grateful thoughts helps you see more things to be grateful for in your life. Clear your mind. Then take one to five minutes each morning to do a guided meditation on gratitude or to meditate on things or people you’re grateful for. A happiness meditation will help you be happier at home, at work and anywhere else you spend your day.
- Plan to be grateful in advance
Gratitude doesn’t just occur in hindsight. Go ahead and plan your gratefulness ahead of time. And don’t wait to spontaneously “feel grateful.” Identify areas in your life in which you feel unhappy and then list ways to feel grateful in those situations.
How to practice gratitude: Write out a list of specific things to be grateful for and carry it with you, or set an alarm on your phone to remind you to look for moments of gratitude. Not sure where to start your planned gratitude journey? Sign up to do something nice for someone else—feeling grateful is just one of the benefits of volunteering.
- Challenge yourself to be grateful in difficult circumstances
Life isn’t about what happens to you but how you handle it, and grateful people are more resilient when handling trying times, says Dr. Waldinger. There is no situation, no matter how difficult, in which you can’t find something to be grateful for—and practicing gratitude can go a long way toward improving the way you deal with hard things.
How to practice gratitude: Look back through old journals or photo albums of hard times in your life and make notes about what helped you get through them and what you were grateful for. Use that information to help you find the silver linings in current troubles.
- Get inspired by others’ gratitude
Being grateful is a skill, and you can learn how to do it by seeing how others practice gratitude in their lives. Pay attention to the way friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances show gratitude throughout the day—or ask them about their gratitude process. (https://www.rd.com/article/how-to-practice-gratitude/)