Gratitude As A Way of Being
At its core, gratitude is a constant practice. Living with an attitude of gratitude is a way of being where gratitude is second nature.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
Do long amounts of time pass by before you feel grateful for something?
Do you run out of things when counting what you are grateful for?
Do you find you notice when you feel pain or unhealthy but you don’t always notice healthy or pain-free days?
If you nodded your head once or twice, your attitude of gratitude could stand to be developed!
“Take heart: The benefits of gratitude aren’t only available to people with a naturally grateful disposition. Instead, feeling grateful is a skill we can develop with practice, reaping its rewards along the way” — The Greater Good Science Center
Research shows that regular gratitude practice is the best way to reap the benefits gratitude has to offer.
According to researcher and gratitude expert Robert Emmons, “Gratitude is an approach to life that can be freely chosen for oneself. It does not depend upon objective life circumstances such as health, wealth, or beauty. Saying that gratitude is a choice means that we can select it from an array of responses to what life offers (Emmons, 2008) ”
We are not stagnant in our way of being. Since Gratitude is a choice, we can strengthen our ability to recognize and acknowledge things that happen.
In other words, our GRATITUDE MINDSET is a part of our GROWTH MINDSET.
You can help your brain actively recognize the goodness within your life…
Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.” — Larissa Gomes
Gratitude is a choice we can make every single day.
Doesn’t mean the choice is always easy…
On this page, explore examples of a life lived through gratitude and tips for cultivating a more grateful lifestyle—starting with what you notice about the world around you.
First, get in the mood to have an attitude of gratitude…
GRATEFUL: A Love Song to the World | Empty Hands Music | nimo feat. daniel nahmod
🎶All that I am, all that I see, all that I’ve been and all that I’ll ever be. It’s a blessing, it’s so amazing, and I’m grateful for it all🎶
How to Truly Be Grateful In Any Situation | Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins explains: “Gratitude is the one emotion that is the antidote to what messes up our life. Gratitude is a choice we can make each day. We can look for what’s missing, OR we can consciously direct our focus to find JOY and FULFILLMENT in what we already have.”
David Steindl-Rast — How to Be Grateful in Every Moment (But Not for Everything) | The On Being Project – The On Being Project
In this podcast, Br. David Steindl-Rast, makes useful distinctions around experiences that are life-giving and resilience-making yet can feel absurd to speak. He calls joy “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” And his gratefulness is not an easy gratitude or thanksgiving — but a full-blooded, reality-based practice and choice.
Attitude of Gratitude Explained
An attitude of gratitude means creating a daily habit to be grateful for and thankful for gifts in your life.
When separating the types of gratitude, Attitude is the gray area between, around, and within each of the types. It is the embodiment of gratitude.
Someone with an attitude for gratitude is consistently appreciative and is able to find things to be grateful for in everyday life. They make a conscious choice to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Swimming in the sea of gratitude, Attitude of Gratitude is the natural buoyancy that makes swimming effortless and enjoyable.
Read these three examples to see how an attitude of gratitude lifts people up and keeps them afloat:
Eli was diagnosed with a serious illness a month ago. There is a chance he will recover, and there is a chance the illness will be terminal. Eli savors the days he can spend with his wife and children and feels grateful to have some time to prepare them for the future.
While Eli could spend his final days angry or frustrated, he chooses to fill his days with appreciation.
Clara works very hard in a corporate job and always thought a gratitude practice was for hippy types. When her therapist assigned her a gratitude practice, she noticed a big change both in her personal life and professional life. As she noticed things to be grateful for, it inspired her to fill her life with more things that brought joy. This helped her be more motivated at work and she ended up getting a promotion.
John has chronic back pain. He starts going to a new chiropractor and doesn’t think anything is working. One day he gets out of bed and his back doesn’t hurt, but he doesn’t notice. Later that day, his wife asks him how his back is and he realizes he isn’t in any pain today. Now, John wakes up and celebrates each day his back doesn’t hurt, and he doesn’t take the absence of pain for granted.
Having an attitude of gratitude gives you the power to shift your mindset, stop, and enjoy the view. With a regular gratitude habit, one can focus more on joy, compassion, and awe and dwell less on stress, worry, and pain.
Guru Gaur Gopal Das explains an attitude of gratitude using the metaphor of something being stuck in a tooth. When we have something stuck between our teeth, our tongue fixates on getting that thing out. Instead of going to all our other teeth and celebrating there not being something stuck, we fixate on the issue. Having an attitude of gratitude involves overcoming the problems in life but also celebrating the positive.
Do you have an Attitude of Gratitude? Consider these statements:
- I am content with what I have.
- I often talk with others about things we are thankful for.
- I am an extremely grateful person.
- I often feel gratitude for the good in my life no matter how many times I encounter it
- When I feel disappointed or sad, I regularly cheer myself up by thinking about the things that are going well for people I care about.
- Although I don’t have everything I want, I am thankful for what I have.
- I remind myself to think about the good things I have in my life.
Read on to explore further cultivating the habit.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey
Stories of Life with Gratitude
365 grateful project | Hailey Bartholomew | TEDxQUT
In 2008, Hailey was depressed and feeling blah about life. A therapist suggested she try a gratitude practice. Everyday for 10 days she spent some time reflecting on her day and she started noticing more and more things in her life she was grateful for. After the 10 days, Hailey knew she needed more, so she started a year-long project of taking a polaroid each day of something she was grateful for. The shift in her attitude transformed her life. She started thinking each day about what she had to be grateful for. Now, she continues her attitude of gratitude and helps others share their stories as well.
“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” — Charles Dickens
Kiss your brain: The science of gratitude | Christina Costa | TEDxUofM
When psychology instructor and researcher Christina Costa was diagnosed with brain cancer, she was introduced to the fight narrative. “You’re a fighter.” “Keep fighting.” “Beat this tumor.” She decided war wasn’t for her, and her body was not a battlefield, so instead of fighting her brain, she kissed her brain and developed an attitude of gratitude. Her PhD in Positive Psychology helped her develop practices throughout her treatment to build gratitude.
“I looked around and thought about my life. I felt grateful. I noticed every detail. That is the key to time travel. You can only move if you are actually in the moment. You have to be where you are to get where you need to go.” —Amy Poehler
Attitude to Gratitude | Dr Joyoki Chen | TEDxKenyalang
Dr. Joyoki explains her life story and how she became a doctor. Having an attitude of gratitude eventually helped her find purpose and meaning in life and led her to be a better person and have a more fulfilling career.
“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy
Tania Luna: My story of gratitude
Tania shares three stories of living a grateful life. The story of her own childhood and the gratitude she felt finding a penny on the ground of the homeless shelter where she lived and being so excited to buy a piece of gum. The story of her husband’s childhood of homelessness and owning nothing but a shoebox of comics and G.I. Joes. And the story of her dog and the gratitude they feel when they go for walks as a family.
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” —Willie Nelson
Lessons in Gratitude – Patagonia
This is a first-hand account of four men as they make the trek in the Bears Ears National Monument and then up the High Uinta Wilderness of northern Utah and the lessons in gratitude that they discover along the way….
A Sufi Gratitude Story:
A Sufi master was traveling so far, along with his two disciples. It was a long journey and they didn’t have any food to eat that day. They could not walk any further. The Sufi master decided to stay under a tree and fast that night.
As usual, he prayed, “Thanks for this day Father, thanks for all the blessings you’ve bestowed upon us.”
Surprised by his prayer, his disciples asked, “Why are we thanking God master? Today, he didn’t even turn to us, we didn’t get anything to eat, we are starving.”
The Sufi master replied, “No friends, today God has shown us a different day, a hard day which we have not faced before. It is only to understand that we can all survive this much. So, we must thank him.” *
*See the illusions page if you are thinking this is toxic positivity.
Ready to dive into your gratitude practice now?
Breaking Down the Attitude of Gratitude into the Four Components
Having an attitude of gratitude is a constant practice, though it may take some time to learn and form the habit. The Attitude can be broken down into four parts to practice:
NTFD: Notice, Think, Feel, Do.
*Gift can refer to material gifts, and also goodness, experiences, people, etc…
The four components do not need to be a linear process. Usually, noticing acts as the foundation, and the other components follow. For example, check out the following situations where notice, think, feel, and do come up in everyday interactions in no particular order.
|You notice a nice act of service a loved one did for you.||Then →||You feel grateful that person is in your life.|
|You spend a day volunteering at a food bank and you notice how little some people have.||Then →||You think about all the food in your pantry that you take for granted.|
|You feel happy to be laughing and playing with your children.||Then →||You give your children a gift of a new game you can all play together and tell them how grateful you are to spend time with them.|
|You notice a beautiful sunset while walking in your neighborhood.||Then →||You take a moment to savor the beauty and appreciate the joy you feel.|
|You think about all the people involved in your morning cup of coffee.||Then →||You feel lucky to have such convenience in your life.|
See below for an overview of the practice of Notice, Think, Feel, Do, and click on the heading to explore each category more.
The foundation to forming an attitude of gratitude is to start actively looking for things to be grateful for daily. Notice the things already in your life that you can take time to appreciate – both big and small!
Using your senses, notice…
- The taste of your breakfast
- The smell of morning tea or coffee
- The temperature or weather
- The dew on the grass
- Clouds or stars
- The beauty in nature
- The smell of flowers on your walk — literally stop and smell the flowers!
Finding a quiet place alone, notice…
- Something positive about your health
- The steadiness of your heart or breathing
- Something that challenges you (like exercise or math)
- How you feel today
- Peace in being alone without looking at your phone
Looking at those around you, notice…
- Something your partner/friend did that you liked
- The way your kids or a friend’s kids laugh or play
- Someone who let you merge in traffic
- How hard the shopkeeper/food service employee is working
Often, once we start noticing things and people around us to appreciate, we naturally start to notice more and more to be grateful for, which leads to a shift in mindset, which shifts how we think and feel about the world around us and what we do daily.
“We’re all so busy chasing the extraordinary that we forget to stop and be grateful for the ordinary.” — Brené Brown
Exercises to jump in right away:
The Iceberg Exercise
Just like the majority of an iceberg can’t be seen above water, most of the things we can be grateful for can go unnoticed. Try this exercise to practice noticing more ordinary moments.
See the full explanation and printable template here.
Mental Subtraction Exercise
Experts suggest mental subtraction — imagining your life without a certain event or relationship— as one way to remind yourself all there is to be grateful for. In this exercise, reflect on all the small events that need to happen in order for significant life events to occur.
See the full explanation and printable template here.
Keep a Gratitude List
Gratitude journals involve reflecting at the end of the day or the end of the week and taking 5-10 minutes to write down things retroactively. To specifically develop observational skills, instead of spending a long time thinking back to things you are grateful for, a list encourages in-the-moment realization.
See the full explanation here.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
Who filled it up? Who made the glass?
How did it get to be on your table?
Cliché as it may be, the glass half full metaphor is an excellent example of shifting your mindset into a more grateful attitude.
Imagine something bad just happened, like you found out a loved one died, or you lost your job, or an important relationship ended.
How would we practice gratitude in the moment? Without ignoring our grief/suffering/pain??
And…how do we make it genuine and not just some fluff on top of a bad day or toxic positivity??
“I lie in bed at night, after ending my prayers with the words ‘Ich danke dir für all das Gute und Liebe und Schöne.’ (Thank you, God, for all that is good and dear and beautiful.)” — Anne Frank
In the THINK section, examine how you think about the world around you and how you can think differently to develop the habit of gratitude in every moment.
Exercises to jump in right away:
Part of developing gratefulness is examining how you think about the gifts and experiences in your life. The THINK component invites you to shift your mindset and think differently about the things around you.
The next time you express gratitude for something, ask yourself “Why is that thing or person so important” and “What difference does expressing gratitude make?”.
The Can of Beans Exercise
Instead of preparing a meal, your dinner for the night is a can of beans. Do not warm the beans up, do not pour them into a bowl. Open the can and eat the beans straight. While you eat the beans, consider how the beans compare to your “usual” dinners and take a moment to appreciate the privilege you have to not eat beans every night.
For a full explanation and reflection questions for this exercise, see here.
Think of a gift you have received recently and ponder the following questions/prompts:
- Why does this gift exist in your life?
- Who gave you this gift?
- What was the occasion/reason for them giving the gift?
- What is special about this specific gift that led to them getting it for you?
- Why is this gift important to you?
- What was the giver feeling and needing when they gave the gift?
See the full explanation and printable template here.
Let yourself savor the positive emotions that come with receiving from others and connecting them to the real gift — the kindness, generosity or love that someone else has shown you. Find the joy in everyday moments and allow that joy to spread throughout your life.
Feeling gratitude is also about being intentional in the moment. When you feel grateful for someone or something, you can reframe how you think about what’s important right now. And what you want to be important in the future.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” — A.A. Milne
Exercises to jump in right away:
Stop. Look. Go (Create Stop Signs)
‘Stop signs’ offer us the opportunity to fit moments of gratitude in our hectic days via ‘scheduled’ time to be present and mindful. Think about some ‘stop signs’ you can create in your home or throughout your daily routine. Get creative and find what works best for you. For Example:
- Sticky note on the bathroom mirror
- Bracelet you wear
- Tape on the light switch
When you see the stop sign, stop and take 60 seconds to think about gratitude and notice something you are grateful for.
For the full explanation of this practice, see the FEEL page.
Savor with Music
Music is a researched tool for bringing up feelings and aiding in savoring. In this exercise, put on some headphones and find a song that feels good.
Allow yourself to be fully immersed in the music and savor the feelings that come up as you listen.
See the gratitude song collection here.
- H – Have a positive experience
- E – Enrich the positive experience
- A – Absorb the positive experience
- L – Link positive and negative
Step 1 – notice you are having a positive experience and activate it.
Step 2 – elongate the moment. When we increase the duration of positive experiences they make a bigger impact.
Step 3 – Take a deep breath and visualize absorbing the experience like feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Step 4 – Realize both pleasant and unpleasant experiences are a part of life and notice how unpleasantness may have contributed to the pleasantness and vice versa.
For a full explanation of this practice, see the FEEL page.
And, check out the printable exercise here.
Do something to express your appreciation — in a way that feels genuine to you!
What can I do to express gratitude?
Write About it
Gratitude journal —
Start a daily practice of thinking about 3 things you are grateful for each day and write them down. Set aside time everyday to make this a habit.
Write a letter to someone, something, or yourself expressing how you feel grateful.
Make a list of things you are grateful for — celebrating the small things
Thank the people who serve you in the community — the shopkeeper, the bus drivers, etc. But not in an automatic and insincere way. (See the illusions page for help with this)
Say thank you for the little things your loved ones do for you, things you normally take for granted.
Take note when people do a good job and express appreciation
When you learn something new, share that knowledge with others.
Reciprocate actions others take to be nice to you or pay it forward and donate your time or energy to others
Give gifts to those you are grateful for.
“No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” Alfred North Whitehead
Forming the Habit — Practice!
Gratitude is more than an act, it is a practice.
Some small steps to start with in cultivating the gratitude habit:
- Focus On Notice And Do
- Fake It Until You Feel It
- Start A Journal
- Focus On Intentions
Focus On Notice And Do
Andrea Hussong, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Northern Carolina suggests if Think and Feel are feeling forced in a gratitude practice, then to start with Noticing and Doing. NTFD doesn’t need to be a linear process. Sometimes, simply noticing things around us to be grateful for can start to form our habit and develop the gratitude skill.
Start A Journal
The most commonly researched method to forming the gratitude habit is to start a gratitude journal. The simple act of writing down 3-5 things you noticed that you can be grateful for can start training your brain to look out for those things. The effectiveness of gratitude journaling can vary, depending on the intentions behind the journaling. See the DO page for more on getting the most out of journaling.
Focus On Intentions
It’s the thought that counts. Research suggests when we focus on the intentions behind gifts, we start thinking about gratitude in a different way, which helps cultivate the habit of gratitude in general. When you receive a gift or something good happens to you, think about how someone tried on purpose to put that thing into your life, and what intentions they had when they did so.
Try getting to the bottom of what the giver may have been expressing when they gave the gift.
Below is a sample of needs to connect to the giver:
99% Invisible is a sound-rich, narrative podcast hosted by Roman Mars about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.
Read more about habits in general:
- At its core, gratitude is a constant practice, which over time becomes more sustainable and uses less effort to practice.
- Research shows that regular gratitude practice is the best way to reap the benefits gratitude has to offer (see all the benefits on the Science page).
- Since Gratitude is a choice, we can strengthen our ability to recognize and acknowledge things that happen.
- Notice — what is already around you that is good?
- Think — how did those things come to be in your life?
- Feel — what feelings come up when you think of those things?
- Do — how can you express your gratitude for the things in your life?
- Practice gratitude each day and make a habit out of it.
- Live Aloha or find inspiration in the many stories of gratitude out there.
- Cambridge Dictionary. (2022). aloha meaning: 1. a Hawaiian word that is used to welcome someone or to say goodbye: 2. a Hawaiian word that is. . .. Learn more. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/aloha
- Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247
- Emmons, R. (2008). Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Annotated edition). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Rule, C. (2001). The Deeper Meaning of Aloha. Huna International. https://www.huna.org/html/deeper.html