A friend of mine recently told me a story about his young toddler. After getting a treat from someone, my friend asked his child, “What do you say?” His son enthusiastically replied, “Goodbye!”
My friend laughed as he told me about how his son could only say four things: “Thank you,” “Hi,” “Goodbye,” and of course “No,” and it probably was hard for him to figure out which one to use when.
In adulthood, it’s now very easy for us to say “thank you” when it’s appropriate, but we have a different challenge: to make gratitude a lifestyle and not just a gesture. In fact, our biology confirms that gratitude has abundant benefits for our health, such as lowering stress, boosting our immune system, lowering blood pressure, and improving our sleep. These perks have lasting effects over the course of our lives.
With such positives at stake, building a lifestyle of gratitude is an important but sometimes unclear task. Here are four ways that you can get started:
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
I’ve been doing this since I was 16 years old when I heard about the idea from Oprah and made it my New Year’s resolution that year. I honestly didn’t think I would keep it up. I started out listing five simple things I was thankful for. I looked forward to doing it so much, I moved to writing 10. Then, I loved doing that, so I began writing down one quote that struck me that day and reflecting on something or someone I saw beauty in. Sure, there are still days when I am too tired to even write 10 things or forget to write all together, but this practice has given me a way to view my life through a lens of gratitude. Even when I’m not having a great day, I challenge myself to find 10 things I’m grateful for and remember that each day has its gifts.
2. Say “thank you” to the everyday people you have in your life.
One of the easiest ways to figure out how to live a lifestyle of gratitude is to ask yourself who you come across every day. This could mean co-workers, public transit drivers, the person who prepares your coffee in the morning, etc. Then, ask yourself when the last time was that you said “thank you.” If it’s been never or a while, consider writing a nice note or taking timer to stop and say a genuine thank you. If you’ve said thank you at some points in the past, try to make it consistent by saying thank you every time you see them.
3. Say “thank you” for the things in your life. Yes, things.
My gratitude journal isn’t only filled with people, it’s also filled with things and the routines I am grateful for in my life. It may seem awkward to say we’re thankful for possessions, but in truth, we are. Maybe you’re thankful for your very comfortable bed at night, the sweatpants you change into after work, or a kitchen gadget that actually does make your life easier. The next time you use these things, pause and be present to the moment of gratitude. Also, don’t forget to say thank you for having your basic needs met, like having a roof over your head or enough food to get through the week.
4. The next level of gratitude: Saying “thanks” to the important people in our lives.
A lecturer once pointed out to me that while we’re coached to say “thank you” for small things in our lives, such as my friend and his son demonstrated, we don’t get as many messages about saying thanks for the big things in our lives. For example, when was the last time you sat down and told a parent, sibling, or close friend how truly grateful you are for what they have given you and continue to give you? Ignoring this can be just as easy as taking for granted having a roof over our heads. Granted, they’re probably aware that you’re grateful, but articulating your gratitude adds to living a lifestyle of thanks.
Gratitude can be a season, like Thanksgiving; a lesson, like a father teaching his son to say thank you; a moment, like a quick “thanks” in the morning; or a lifestyle, which means always looking for ways to say “thanks” for the smallest and biggest gifts in life. As the Thanksgiving season approaches, look for ways to build gratitude into your life year round.
Originally published November 10, 2016.