Grateful people experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better and even have stronger immune systems according to numerous research studies. However, it’s not always easy to find thanks and gratitude.
We are hard-wired to focus on negativity. And if you try to force yourself to stop thinking about your concerns, you just end up thinking about them more.
However, there are some simple things you can do to shift your attention, feel more gratitude and even rewire your brain for more positivity.
Here are 8 ways to find thanks and gratitude
1. Focus on this moment – not on what occurred in the past or what might occur in the future, but just on what is present right now. Be aware of your breathing. Sense your body. Then, look around until you notice something interesting. Focus on it for a full 60 seconds. Notice the details – the colors… the shapes… the texture… What is most interesting about it? Take a deep breath and notice how you feel in this particular moment. You might be surprised by what occurs.
2. Notice some simple things in your life that you tend to take for granted or overlook. Let your attention linger on some of the little things you appreciate – the taste of chocolate, the warmth of your coffee, the color of your socks, or the softness of your sweater. Forget majestic sunsets and things you think you’re supposed to appreciate but can’t. Sometimes it’s easier feel pleasure in the little things than the big ones.
3. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would a good friend. You deserve it. No one beats you up worse than you do. Stuff a sock in the mouth of that mean voice for awhile and be a friend to yourself, make some chicken soup, and be your best friend.
4. Connect with a friend. You might think you’re supposed to slink off by yourself if you can’t be fun to be with. But sharing how you’re really feeling with someone who cares about you can take the pressure off, and gratitude arises as a result.
5. Thank others. Thank the grocery clerk who checked you out. Thank the person who took your ticket to the movies, the parking lot or the subway entrance. There are a lot of people providing service for you on a regular basis. Take time to thank them, even if you’re not feeling thankful in the moment, and you might be surprised to find gratitude naturally arises.
6. Give something back. Give to a charity. Volunteer for a non-profit. Pay a visit to someone who is ill. Act as if you are thankful, and you’ll find gratitude actually does begin to arise.
7. Recognize joy and gratitude in others. The picture in this article is of my son who had just summited Nevado Champara in Peru. While his climbing causes me stress and concern at times, I can’t also help but notice and appreciate how much joy and gratitude he experiences. And when I connect with that, I experience gratitude as well.
8. Make a gratitude list. Write down 3-5 things you are grateful for at the end of the day. They can be simple things like when someone smiled at you. The act of writing them down highlights them and anchors them in your consciousness. Some people keep a gratitude journal. If you’re on social media, check out #100daysofgratitude to see what kinds of things others are listing.
What if it doesn’t work?
If you’ve tried these tips and gratitude is still elusive, don’t try to force it. Life is not static. Eventually things will begin to shift. Meanwhile, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Sadness, anger, and fear are normal human states. When you suppress your feelings, they fester. However, remember there’s a difference between feeling your feelings and acting them out (e.g. yelling at someone angrily or honking your horn in annoyance). Some people find it is easier to connect with their sadness or anger when they are alone. If that is true for you, then find a private place to yell and cry.
When things do begin to shift, pay attention and notice what’s happening. Ask yourself if there might something you are grateful for now. It is possible to find thanks and gratitude even during stressful times. But if you become stuck in a state of depression over a long period of time, it is important to seek professional help.
I especially appreciate your point about thanking others. You reminded me of how much I take for granted all the things that others do to make my life easier. And on that note, thanks to you for your blog!
When you take the time to sincerely thank others, not only do you make them feel good, but you remind yourself what you have to be thankful for and you feel good too. Many thanks right back to you, James, for taking the time to share your thoughts.
Beautiful post. I particularly resonate with “notice the job and gratitude in others.” As we travel, I’m always amazed to experience and observe how people find great joy and gratitude even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Traveling is a wonderful opportunity to find either joy and gratitude or frustration and annoyance. Remembering what’s most important is the best way to keep yourself from getting trapped in frustration. So great to hear from you Karin!
“Focus on this moment” allowed me to absorb the other 7 on both an intellectual and emotional level. Just what I needed as I multi-task my way though the Thanksgiving-eve check list. Thanks for sharing your wisdom Jesse and for throwing me an anchor in the process.
Appreciate your highlighting the importance of “focusing on the moment.” So easy to do and so hard to remember. Thanks for taking the time out of your Thanksgiving check-list, David. Best to you and yours for the holidays!
Thanks for these focused reminders about where to look and how to find. When we start each day with gratitude for a new day of opportunities, this amazing gift of more time and so many possibilities, that helps our attitude of gratitude from the get go. Thanks to you, Jesse Lyn, for sharing so much that helps so many so often. Time and time again!
Starting the day by focusing on gratitude opens us to experience the possibilities of the day. Thanks for pointing that out. Great to hear from you Gary!
And I am most thankful for you. Love this thought :Sam Lefkowitz states: When asked if my cup is half-full or half-empty my only response is that I am thankful I have a cup.
Gratitude is grace spoken or acted upon. And your writing is an act of gratitude
Love your definition of gratitude – Gratitude is grace spoken or acted upon. Many thanks for sharing your wisdom here, Eileen!
Jesse, I have just put down Flourishing by Marty Seligman. He of the learned helplessness, then learned optimism, then authentic happiness and now flourishing defined as well being on all levels. I have known of gratitude journals for years….used them on and off. And then he cites the double blind studies of writing “What went well” each day. 3 things. That’s all. And in 30 days you will feel better. 85% of the time. So if I keep doing it month after month the odds get stacked in my favor very quickly. So powerful a post. I love that it’s so practical at this time of year 🙂
Great suggestion! Consistency and repetition is an important part of rewiring your brain for optimism. Many thanks for adding to the list of tips, Jake.
Great to “hear” your clear voice again! #7 particularly resonates with me, because when others are doing what they love, they are happier, and it enhances others’ lives. Simply put, when I get to do the things I really love to do, I am a much more positive person. Oh, and much gratitude to you for all your personal replies. I like the way you always use the respondent’s name.
It’s interesting how feelings – both joy and sorrow – are contagious. For me, focusing on the positive emotions of my son rather than my own concerns, opens the door to experience the contagion of his joy and gratitude. Much gratitude to you for taking the time to share your thoughts, Dave. A personal reply is my pleasure!
For persons who suffer from serious mental illness, these are tough steps to climb, impossible for some. However, practicing them may help prevent mental illness for some persons and bring some support to others suffering from mental illness. Thank you.
I agree, Tim. As I point out in my post “if you become stuck in a state of depression over a long period of time, it is important to seek professional help.”
Jesse thank you for these tips. Sometimes stillness and silence gives us answers as well. If all these tips do not work, meditating in silence with open eyes really helps. Your recommendation of journal is good. I sometimes just type it under the notes on my phone. We need to spend more time with ourselves when and first be thankful in our thoughts. Thoughts become words and words become actions.
Meditation is an excellent addition to the list. Thank you Bharat!
Thanks for sharing the tips. There are things we usually take for granted in life yet they contribute to our life immensely.
Indeed. By being more intentional, we can get the most of the things we usually take for granted. Many thanks for your thoughts!
Jesse, this is a wonderful post with a fabulous picture. It’s good just read your words.
Thank you Fay!
Thank you for sharing this beautiful writing. I feel blessed to have read it and shared it with my loved ones! It is very healthy to read this information.
So glad to hear you found it helpful, Brian.