You’ve probably heard the saying “gratitude is an attitude,” but it’s more than that. A thankful heart prevents us from overlooking everyday blessings, like a delicious dinner or a warm bed.
Gratitude is an active process of acknowledging goodness and recognizing its source, according to Robert Emmons, PhD, professor of psychology at UC Davis, and author of “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”
“While gratitude is pleasant, it is not easy,” Emmons notes, “we have to work at it.”
Counting (and recounting) blessings has benefits. Research shows people who practice gratitude feel greater joy and connectedness, cope better with stress, and experience less illness and depression. Put these prompts on your family calendar now. In thirty days, thankful thoughts and pay-it-forward actions will be almost automatic.
1 Start a gratitude journal. List three things you’re grateful for today. Do it again tomorrow. Gratitude journals focus emotional energy on what’s right, not what’s wrong.
2 Rock out to “I Thank You” by rhythm and blues legends Sam and Dave while you clean or cook dinner. Get the kids in on the act. It’s impossible to be ungrateful when you boogie to this beat!
3 Acknowledge your partner’s financial, practical, and emotional contributions to the household. Look him or her in the eye and say “thank you for working to support our family” or “thank you for doing the laundry.”
4 Pen a traditional thank-you note to someone who doesn’t expect it, like the bus driver, your babysitter or a crossing guard. Seal it with a smiley-face sticker.
5 Give a bouquet of fall flowers to someone you appreciate. Mums speak volumes.
6 Set a grateful example. Say “thank you” for kids’ help with table setting or toy room cleanup. Go global! Say “Gracias,” “Danke” or “Merci!” to make it more memorable.
7 Light a candle and spend three minutes focused on one recent blessing. Don’t have a candle handy? Go to gratefulness.org/light-a-candle and light a virtual version instead.
9 Bring a comforting dinner to someone who nurtures the good in others. Fall food doesn’t need to be fussy. Soup and bread are perfect for sharing.
10 Make collages of the people, places and opportunities for which you’re most grateful. Cut out pictures from magazines or make a word cloud at Wordle.net. Laminate your creations to use as a placemats.
11 Bake “thankful pie” using your family’s favorite ingredients (apples, pears or sugar pumpkins). Savor the bounty of this year’s local harvest.
12 Go online to merchants who make or sell objects you love. Take 10 minutes to give ratings or write a review. The merchant (and the next shopper) will appreciate it.
13 Do date night with your significant other or one of the kids. Tune in to what makes you smile, laugh and sigh when you’re together.
14 Remember bad times, like frustrations, failures and losses. Notice how much better things are right now. Focus on resiliency and renewal.
15 Inspire others. Describe one unexpected blessing you’ve received today in a status update on Facebook or Twitter.
16 Post thankful expressions in visible locations at home and at work. Sneak one into your child’s lunchbox while you’re at it.
17 Stop by the principal’s office and tell her three things you appreciate about your child’s teacher, coach or curriculum. Her job is (mostly) thankless.
18 When in line at the coffee counter or drive-thru, pay for the drink of the person behind you. Your generosity will boost their energy and their mood.
19 Speak up publicly (at work or at church) and highlight others’ help and support. Your recognition might be just what someone needs today.
20 Write a letter of thanks to each of your children. Explain how they’ve changed your life for the better. Give the notes now or tuck them into kids’ baby books.
21 Practice random thankfulness. Pick simple cues—like common words—or set an alarm. Use them to trigger thankful thoughts.
22 Do a walking meditation focused on your own goodness. Be grateful for your health, for your mind, and for your talents. Affirm yourself.
24 Take a picture of your family holding “thank you” signs. Design an e-card or print custom notes to send to holiday gift-givers.
Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a personality psychologist and mom of two who is grateful for coffee and knock-knock jokes.