Gratitude is a feeling: “I feel grateful for this gift.”
And, Gratitude is also a behavior and attitude that elicits other feelings: “I feel joyful when I think about all the goodness in my life and I am grateful.”
On this page, we’ll explore how to savor the practice of gratitude in order to experience positive emotions.
When you are sick, it is easy to complain, be miserable, and dwell in yucky feelings, however how often do you wake up and celebrate being healthy?
Let yourself savor the positive emotions you already have or that come with receiving from others— the kindness, generosity or love that someone else has shown you. Find the joy in everyday moments and allow that joy to spread throughout.
Elongate the moment and bask in positive feelings with gratitude.
“This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” —Maya Angelou
The Joy of Gratitude
“I made a commitment: I will never talk about joy for the rest of my career without talking about gratitude. In 12 years of research, I have never interviewed a single person who talks about the capacity to really experience and soften into joy who does not actively practice gratitude.” — Brené Brown
Gratitude is an inevitable and powerful aspect of building happiness and joy.
“Gratitude for the present moment and the fullness of life now is the true prosperity.” —Eckhart Tolle
Feeling gratitude is 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.
When you feel a sense of joy or success, do you frequently take an extra few seconds to take it in?
Dr. Brené Brown on Joy: It’s Terrifying | SuperSoul Sunday | Oprah Winfrey Network
Brene Brown says that “happiness is an emotion reliant on other people and circumstances. Joy is a way of life.” Happiness is fleeting and reliant on the moment. A life of joy, on the other hand, is entwined with the notion of living a life in which we are grateful for the gift of opportunity. When we practice gratitude we are able to move beyond a way of thinking, our attitude, and our thoughts become our actions and behavior. Gratitude becomes not what we are doing, but the way we are living, and joy manifests in every moment.
Living a grateful life constantly invites us to find joy in the little things. It is in these moments that we once again can become humble and can break out of the fear of loss mentality. Whether that be the old adage of ‘stopping to smell the roses’, finding shapes in the clouds, listening to a favorite song, watching a smile spread across the face of a child, or finding more french fries at the bottom of the bag, the possibility for joy is all around. It is then up to us whether or not to be grateful for it.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” — A.A. Milne
Try it Out — Savor the Joy of Gratitude
Take a Savoring Walk
Set out on a walk with the intention of taking it all in. Use all of your senses to absorb the walk.
To guide your walk, consider listening to a mindful meditation, below are some examples.
After the walk, debrief using these prompts:
- After my walk, I feel…
- One surprising thing I noticed was…
- If I hadn’t been paying attention, I may have missed…
- I feel grateful for…
Give it Up
Experts suggest taking a break from something or imagining taking a break from something as one way to savor how good that thing actually is.
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:
Take in the Good (see below)
Stop and smell the roses…Literally!
Stop and smell the roses…Literally!
“You don’t experience life by drinking coffee fast. You experience life by savoring every last drop.” — Anthony T. Hincks
Behavior scientists Bryant and Veroff (2007) define savoring as the capacity to attend to the joys, pleasures, and other positive feelings that we experience in our lives. Specifically, savoring goes beyond pleasure, coping, positive affect, or emotional intelligence.
According to a 2018 study in Spain, finding the positive in everyday mundane moments can lead to a more fulfilling everyday life. Savoring these moments and allowing ourselves to prolong the feelings of joy and satisfaction in these moments can lead to inviting more joy into our life.
To savor means to use all 5 senses to experience a moment to help it last. Appreciate the smell of flowers, the feeling of soft fabric, the taste of breakfast, and the beauty and sound around us, and let these senses bring joy to an ordinary moment. Feel pleasure, stay with it, open to it, and take it in.
“We cannot be grateful for all that a given moment brings us; yet, in any given moment, we can be grateful for something. The gift within the gift of any given moment is opportunity.” ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
Practice: Savor Everyday Experiences
As humans, one of our greatest strengths can also be a bane: Adaptivity.
With shocking frequency and speed, we attune to our circumstances and forget about that deep sense of gratitude and pleasure we once felt for our favorite daily things.
This exercise is simple: on one sheet of paper, make a list of some of your favorite, simple, pleasurable experiences that happen to you regularly. Aim for things that happen once daily to once weekly..
Some examples may be:
- My favorite breakfast
- That feeling when I’ve brushed my teeth and I breathe in minty air through my mouth.
- When I have 3 green lights in a row while returning home from work.
You can use this printout to make your list:
Stop. Look. Go.
Brother David Steindl-Rast on Gratefulness – Stop. Look. Go.
Gratitude expert and Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast explains how to build moments of appreciation into your daily routine with Stop. Look (appreciate). Go.
At the core of Brother David Steindl-Rast’s method is the idea that a grateful person is able to recognize that life, each and every moment, is a gift and an opportunity. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, there is an opportunity to be taken and/or recognized. And this, itself, is the greatest gift.
STOP: Slow down and take a moment to be quiet. In order to do so, you must learn to build “stop signs”(see below) in your life that remind you to take a moment to just Be.
LOOK: Use this quiet to open your senses and look around. Enjoy the richness of the world in which you live. If you are able to open your heart to the opportunity that is provided by the moment, then you are able to offer this to others. Which leads into:
GO: Take action, whether this action is a physical or emotional step towards enjoying the moment.
Print out some reminders for yourself to have around the house:
With Stop. Look. Go, we can get into the habit of frequently feeling happily surprised by some little gift or blessing in everyday life.
To help with forming the habit, you can schedule out times to practice gratitude throughout the day. Print out the below schedule for your fridge for a friendly reminder to make time for gratitude:
Take Action — Create ‘Stop Signs’
One way to cultivate the habit of savoring is to create stop signs to serve as cues to take a minute to express gratitude and savor the moment.
- A sticky note on a light switch so everytime you flip the switch you remember how lucky you are to have access to electricity and to take a moment to savor the feeling of being able to light up a room.
- A special key chain on your car keys that reminds you of a loved one, to remind you to be thankful for loved ones during the busy times in your life.
- A smiley face sticker on your bathroom mirror — so while you are brushing your teeth at night you can think about one thing that brought you joy that day and savor that joy.
- Tape a grateful quote to your dishwasher so whenever you are doing the dishes or unloading the dishwasher you think about things you are grateful for rather than focusing on the chore.
Don’t want to make your own? Use some of the printouts from above.
The 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.
The more stop signs we create, the faster we learn the habit of stop/look/go, which cultivates an Attitude of Gratitude.
Do You Savor?
Ponder these statements:
- I find it easy to hang on to a good feeling for a long time.
- I routinely experience pleasure through each one of my senses.
- I feel satisfied and successful when I attain my goals, including the little ones.
- I know how to make the most of a good time.
- I try to get as much as I can out of those things that I enjoy.
- When I feel a sense of success, I frequently take an extra few seconds to take it in.
- When I think back to a lovely time, it’s easy for me to really suck and enjoy the juice out of it
For an assessment of savoring and gratitude as a whole, check out the gratitude quiz.
Taking In the Good
Rick Hanson is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. Hanson researches, writes, and teaches topics of positive brain change — how we can rewire our brains to learn from positive experiences. His study on the topic was recently published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. His theory of “Taking In the Good” can be applied to savoring the moment.
Rick Hanson: Taking in the Good
We can certainly learn from negative experiences, and negative experiences often have significant consequences. Or, we can deliberately use the mind to change the brain over time for the better.
Our brains are like machines that build themselves. Every time we make a thought, even have a feeling or sensation, we lay bricks to build the neural pathways in our brain. These roads become easier for future thoughts and feelings to travel down.
According to Hanson, our brains are molded by ancient survival mechanisms to be “like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”
“To pass on their genes, our reptilian, mammalian, primate, hominid, and human ancestors had to get things that were pleasurable, such as the “carrots” of shelter, food, and sex. Meanwhile, they had to stay away from things that were painful, such as the “sticks” of predators, starvation, and aggression from others of their species. Carrots and sticks are both important, but there’s a vital difference between them. From a survival standpoint, sticks have more urgency and impact than carrots.” (Hanson, 2016)
So, we are creatures of ‘Eat lunch today, don’t be lunch right now’.
Our brains evolved a strong negativity bias. It looks for bad news and reacts intensely to it, quickly storing it in neural structure. We can still be happy, but it requires vigilance. We face a natural susceptibility to fear, stress, anxiety, disappointment, and hurt.
Hanson argues that we can fight this negativity bias with positive brain change. “By tilting toward the good – “good” in the practical sense of that which brings more happiness to oneself and more helpfulness to others – you merely level the playing field.”
“In essence,” Hanson states, “You can manage your mind in three primary ways: let be, let go, let in.”
Let it BE, Let it GO, Let it IN
Let it GO
You can pull weeds, doing your best to uproot the negative aspects of your brain.
Let it IN
Thirdly, you can grow flowers, increasing your positivity and enhancing your inner strengths.
The practice of letting it be, letting it go, and letting it in can turn everyday experiences into memorable positive experiences and help us savor joy in small moments.
|Situation||Let it BE||Let it GO||Let it IN|
|You just moved to a new city.||You get into a routine at your new job and you fill your days with work and getting to know your new city.||You recognize feelings of loneliness that are coming up and avoid comparing your current way of life to how things were before you moved.||You open yourself to new experiences and meeting new people, and you make a conscious effort to improve things in your new place. When you meet new people, you let them in and you savor the joy that comes with new friendship.|
|You receive an award for being the best at work.||You experience ephemeral happiness at people congratulating you and you modestly accept the award.||When your mind wanders to ‘someone else deserved this award more than me’ you direct your attention back to how hard you have worked the past year.||You feel gratitude for your coworkers for the recognition and you feel seen. You savor the feeling of belonging you experience with knowing you are in the right place.|
|You and your partner go on a date.||You experience the date, admire your partner, and enjoy yourself in the moment.||You rid your mind of nagging thoughts like ‘I have so much work to do tomorrow’ so you can be present in the moment.||You savor the love you feel for your partner, the joy of laughing with them, and you express gratitude to them for the joy they bring into your life.|
We know that the brain takes its shape from whatever the mind rests upon: if one keeps resting their mind on doubts, hurt, and stresses, then their brain is shaped into greater vulnerability of these things. Whatever we give our attention, we give the shape of our brain.
Considering this, the thesis of Hardwiring Happiness is as follows:
“The best way to develop greater happiness and other inner strengths is to have experiences of them, and then help these good mental states become good neural traits. This is taking in the good: activation of a positive experience and installing it in your brain.”
“People draw on psychological resources such as gratitude to cope with adversity and maintain well-being.” — Rick Hanson
On the topic of taking in the good, Hanson states, “Just having positive experiences, including grateful ones, is not enough. If a person just feels grateful for a few seconds, that’s nice, that’s better than feeling resentful or bitter for a few seconds, ok? But, the brain doesn’t have enough time, unless it is an intense experience of gratitude, like a Chilean minor released from thousands of feet below. Just having that experience alone is not enough. We need to stay with those experiences and we need to take steps consciously to keep that spotlight of attention there so that we really suck that experience into the brain.”
Hanson provides a method for keeping the spotlight on the experience, and an acronym to aid in remembering it:
- Have a positive experience.
- Enrich it.
- Absorb it.
- Link positive and negative material.
Step one activates a positive experience, and steps 2 to 4 install it in your brain.
Check out these videos of Dr. Hanson explaining the H.E.A.L. practice:
Equipping and using this method is a skill. It can be practiced and learned, always improving. A great part about it is that it can be trained all the time: either in the flow of daily activity or during special times like meals, before bed, etc.
^ Click it for a full-size image that you can print out for your fridge!
- Have a Positive Experience – Take Notice – Pleasant sensations are all around you, all the time. Whether deep and complex, like appreciating a loved one, or simple and immediate, like having less pain in your shoulder today, all of these are opportunities to sink into positive experience. They can dwell in the background or the foreground of your experiences. Go looking for them! It is a worthwhile journey.
Create Positive Experience – Search for good facts. You can find them all over: in your current setting, recent events, ongoing conditions, your personal qualities, the past, the future, in sharing, in the bad, in others, in your imagination. The list goes on.
- Enrich a Positive Experience – One of the surest ways to enrich a positive experience is to increase its duration. Deliberately apply your attention to the experience and then sustain it. Give yourself gentle instructions: “Stay with this. I’m on my own side. Let’s make this last a bit longer.” Name the experience. Start from particularly stimulating and obvious positive experiences, and eventually move to more subtle noticings.
- Absorb an Experience – Visualize the experience sinking into you. Sense it coming into your body. Let yourself be changed by it. Even if it seems unrelated or exaggerated, routinely give yourself this absorption. You can deepen its neural traces by embodying it to its very fullest.
- Link Positive and Negative Material – Hold both positive and negative in awareness while keeping the positive more prominent and not getting hijacked by the negative. Gradually, the positive will more and more easily soothe and even replace the negative. Unpleasant experiences are part of life, and sometimes have value. Don’t let the natural negativity bias turn a negative experience into negative material. For more related to this, see Giving and Receiving.
- Every moment we can choose to savor joy.
- Research shows a link between gratitude savoring and a more positive outlook on life.
- Create stop signs so in your busy life you remember to savor without it feeling like a chore.
- Taking in the good means training your brain to focus on positive experiences rather than negativity.
- Savoring relies on the 5 senses to prolong a moment, and music can play a big role in keeping our feelings in the present moment.
- There are a few models / mnemonics for training the habit of savoring:
- Stop. Look. Go.
- Let it BE, Let it GO, Let it IN
- HEAL — Have a positive experience, enrich it, absorb it, link positive and negative material.
- Cady, E. T., Harris, R. J., & Knappenberger, J. B. (2007). Using music to cue autobiographical memories of different lifetime periods. Psychology of Music, 36(2), 157–177. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735607085010
- Habibi, A., & Damasio, A. (2014). Music, feelings, and the human brain. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 24(1), 92–102. https://doi.org/10.1037/pmu0000033
- Hanson, R., PhD. (2016). Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Harmony/Rodale.
- Maddigan, M. E., Sullivan, K. M., Halperin, I., Basset, F. A., & Behm, D. G. (2019). High tempo music prolongs high intensity exercise. PeerJ, 6, e6164. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6164
- Mitchell, T. (2014). Essays on Life by Thomas Mitchell, Farmer. Vagabond Voices.