You’ve probably heard the saying “gratitude is an attitude,” but it’s more than that. A thankful heart prevents people 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 do chores around the house. 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 family or household. Say “thank you for working to support our family” or “thank you for doing the laundry,” etc.
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” when kids contribute to the well-being of the family, such as helping set the table, watching younger siblings or cleaning up.
7. Light a candle and spend three minutes focused on one recent blessing.
8. Be grateful for financial resources. Consider paying it forward by helping someone get back on their feet.
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 a collage of the people, places and opportunities for which you’re most grateful. Cut out pictures and words from magazines and laminate your creations to use as 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 praise merchants who make or sell items (or offer services) you love. Take 10 minutes to write a positive 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 the bad times, frustrations and losses. Take note on how things have changed or improved. 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 often 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 mood.
19. Speak up publicly about someone's 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.
23. Volunteer your time and talents to serve others. Find local opportunities at our list of local volunteering opportunities.
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.