5 Ways to Build a Gratitude Practice

Published on November 23, 2023

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

As the holiday season approaches, you may experience a range of feelings. For many, this is a joyful time filled with togetherness, celebration, and gratitude. But if you’re facing hardships, the holidays can magnify feelings of grief, loneliness, or loss.

You can’t choose how you feel but you can gain power by choosing gratitude. Gratitude grounds you in the present moment so you can fully appreciate what you have rather than what you lack. So, don’t reserve gratitude for Thanksgiving or the holidays. Give yourself the gift of a gratitude practice and enjoy the benefits every day of the year.

Science confirms that focusing on what you’re grateful for benefits your mental and physical health. According to Robert A. Emmons, a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude and a professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret, and depression, which can destroy our happiness. It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.” 

A gratitude practice can positively affect your biochemistry and may lead to lower levels of perceived stress and stress hormones and lower blood pressure. Grateful people eat better, sleep better, and get more exercise, factors that contribute to a healthier and happier life. 1 2

Everyone can choose to be thankful. Even on the darkest of days, you can find something to be grateful for, whether it's the comfort of a warm cup of tea, laughter from a child, a smile from a passerby, or a roof over your head.

5 Ways to Build Regular Gratitude in Your Life

Set aside a few minutes every day to appreciate the people, experiences, and personal attributes you consider valuable and meaningful. Recognize things you’re grateful for and acknowledge the part others play in bringing good into your life. 

Gratitude shouldn't be a chore. It's a mindset you develop to appreciate life's gifts — big and small. When you train your brain to spot the blessings in each moment, you may find warmth and kindness surrounds you.

There are many ways to become more grateful. Consider one of the following tried-and-true rituals to add gratitude to your daily routine.

1. Keep a Morning or Evening Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal can be a powerful tool to cultivate appreciation and positivity. To start, keep a small notebook on your bedside table and set aside time once a day or every other day to jot down up to five things you're grateful for. Be as specific as possible, noting the feelings a gift or memory evokes. 

For example, instead of being grateful for a family member or friend, remember a gesture one of them made that truly warmed your heart. If you’ve been overworked of late, consider a compliment a co-worker gave you that made you feel appreciated. 

If you’re a gig worker struggling to find your next job, you might be grateful for the skills a parent or teacher taught you that will serve you in that job. One near-homeless writer once wrote about the pencil he was grateful for that enabled him to practice and sell his art. 

The object of the exercise is not to create a long list but to re-experience the warm emotions that come from thinking of the thing you’re grateful for. Studies show that while we adapt to grand blessings, appreciating life's small gifts nurtures lasting happiness. When you reread your journal, you’ll realize life offers more blessings than you imagined.

2. Write Thank You Notes and Postcards

Expressing gratitude is as important as feeling it. A handwritten or personal thank you note has the power to uplift yourself and others. When you take the time to craft a heartfelt thank you note, it deepens your connection with the recipient by making them feel recognized and valued. This simple gesture can go a long way in strengthening bonds with friends, family, and colleagues.

Thank you notes can be handwritten, typed, or emailed. However, consider that in a digital world, receiving something tangible and thoughtful stands out. Taking the time to sit down and write a note demonstrates your sincere appreciation. Thank you notes are strongest when you mention how a gift or action impacted you. Describe what you appreciated and why.

3. Add Mindful Meditation to Your Gratitude Practice

Adding mindful meditation to your routine can profoundly deepen your gratitude practice and shift your perspective. 

Set aside 10 to 15 minutes daily to sit quietly and tune into your breath to allow your mind to become more present. If your mind keeps reviewing daily stresses, simply observe the thoughts, trust that you’ll have time to deal with them later, and consciously shift your focus back to your breath. When your mind is quiet, begin reflecting on one or two things you’re grateful for. Let the good feelings wash over you.

Regular meditation trains your mind to slow down and pay closer attention to the gifts that might get overlooked in your fast-paced life. With consistent practice, you may find you have an expanded sense of appreciation throughout your daily life and can shift more easily from any negative thoughts that bring you down. 

You may find it effective to softly repeat an uplifting mantra such as "thank you" several times during your meditation to help you focus. Envisioning each breath as a gift entering your body and appreciating the work your body and mind does to keep you healthy can help anchor your meditation in gratitude. 

4. Say Grace for the Meals You Eat

Take a moment to be mindful before you eat and give thanks to everyone involved in putting that meal on the table in front of you. Give thanks to the farmers who tilled the soil and grew the food. Give thanks to the truckers who drove it to stores or farmer’s markets. Give thanks to the grocers who made the food available to purchase. Give thanks to the cook who put the meal together. If you’re not eating alone, give thanks for the company in your presence.

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to express your thanks out loud. But there is no reason to limit your thanks to one day a year. Expressing gratitude for your meals helps you pay more attention to what and how much you are eating and be more aware of when you are satiated. It can make eating itself more enjoyable. 

5. Keep a Positivity Jar

Instead of waiting to express gratitude once a day in a journal, write down something that makes you happy or you’re grateful for as it happens and place the note in a glass jar. If you do this regularly, you can watch the jar fill up and have a visual reminder of the number of things in your life that are positive. When you’re feeling down, you can pull out one of your notes and read it to give yourself a mood boost.

Support For a Positive Holiday Season

If you add one or more of these techniques to your routine, you’ll be on your way to having a healthy gratitude practice that enhances your life. With an open and grateful heart, you can transform even the most challenging times into opportunities for hope and healing. 

With the holidays upon us, you may not establish a gratitude practice in time to recognize all its benefits. If the holidays churn up occasional worry and anxiousness, these feelings may sabotage your ability to savor the season's potential joy.

If this sounds familiar, you can nurture more tranquil feelings with Gaia Herbs' award-winning Calm A.S.A.P. This natural herbal blend of Passionflower, Skullcap, Chamomile, and Lavender may instill deep calm when you need it most. Or consider Gaia Herbs’ full Calm Kit, which includes four products that offer a variety of formats to support the stress response and help balance your body and mind.* 

With a focus on gratitude and these calming herbs, rediscover a joyful appreciation of the present moment.

May this holiday season be filled with love, light, and gratitude for you and yours.