One thing I’m working on this year is to be more grateful. I’m always on the lookout for new exercises or practices to help cultivate gratitude in my life. To help me (and you) become more grateful, I asked several experts in the field this question:
What is the most effective practice or exercise you have used to cultivate gratitude in your own life?
Here’s what they said:
For me personally, keeping in mind overcoming a particularly large medical problem, how much support I had, and how it could have ended up is what makes me most grateful.
–Dr. Alex Wood, University of Stirling
So, I think my favorite way of practicing gratitude is via counterfactuals – that is, trying to imagine in as vivid way as possible NOT having something. For example, what if I had never met my husband? Got into my dream college? And the biggest — what if my kids had never been born (especially the 3rd & 4th one, whom I had in my mid-40s).
–Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of California—Riverside
In terms of long term effectiveness, for me the most effective gratitude treatment is the version of grateful recounting that we have employed in some of our outcome studies. I write down three good things that have happened or I became aware of in the last 48 hours, and then write a bit about how each makes me feel grateful. When I do this exercise daily, I try to vary it a bit by recounting specific things and also more general things like life itself. I will also vary it some by trying to look at different sources of gratitude (benefactors such as spouse, children, God, friends, my students, etc.), and I find this is helpful too. I also try to vary it according to the situation, so for example, when it’s the end of the quarter and most of my interaction with students is a few of them complaining about their grades, I try to recount blessings from the other 90% of students who make my work so fulfilling.
–Dr. Philip Watkins, Eastern Washington University
My favorite gratitude habit is writing emails to the people who matter in my life about why I appreciate them.
–Dr. Adam Grant, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Lately, I have been trying to intentionally stop and savor moments during the day. I think doing this induces a bit of gratitude, along with other emotions. Often I stop and savor positive things, like one of my children smiling at me in church. But sometimes I like to savor more mundane things, like the fact I can walk without pain. Similarly, I have tried to find things to savor even in events that might otherwise be appraised as negative. So for instance, one of my children needs a lot of constant and costly therapy, but I like to stop even during those moments and feel grateful for the fact that we have insurance that helps us with the cost and we have not yet had to make difficult choices in this domain.
–Dr. JoAnn Tsang, Baylor University
For me, I take a more general approach to cultivate a life orientation of gratitude. Specifically, I consistently focus on all of the positive in my life. This doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to the negative; I know it’s there. But I make a conscious effort to focus on all of my blessings—and I do this DAILY! I also say many prayers of thanksgiving daily to God because I know that He is the source of all of my goodness.
–Dr. Jeffrey Froh, Hofstra University
Action Step: Pick the gratitude practice or exercise you like the most, and try it out this week!