How Expressing Gratitude Leads to Greater Happiness

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
- William Arthur Ward

The dictionary defines gratitude as a feeling of thankfulness. Of course, being thankful when circumstances are pleasant is fun, and easy. When times get tough, however, it can seem impossible to appreciate the good in life.

Jack Kornfield, one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America presents the following:

“Buddhist monks begin each day with a chant of gratitude for the blessings of their life. Native American elders begin each ceremony with grateful prayers to mother earth and father sky, to the four directions, to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life. In Tibet, the monks and nuns even offer prayers of gratitude for the suffering they have been given…”

I am not a nun or monk, but I did feel inspired when I read this passage from Jack’s blog. In my own recent struggle, I found myself asking the following questions:

  • How could I possibly express gratitude in a time of deep anxiety and sadness?

  • How can I break my habit of taking the simple, day-to-day joys of life for granted?

  • Most importantly, how could I learn to be grateful for my suffering?

I noticed that the people Jack spoke of came from many different walks of life, yet every one of them used gratitude as part of their rituals. I decided it was time to make gratitude an integral part of my day and come up with my own gratitude routine.

Although I do not practice all of the five action steps listed below every single day, I’ve found that sprinkling a few of these gratitude routines into my week has not only made me more aware of the often over-looked abundance in my life, but also made me a happier person…

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
- John F. Kennedy

1.  The Five Minute Journal

This little book really is a game changer; it’s very easy to use and incorporate into your daily routine. Write in it for five minutes, twice a day: once in the morning and again at night. You can see what a page of my journal looks like in the photo below. This book seriously makes a difference in how I view my day and actually makes me a more productive and positive person. I never want to look back on my day with remorse or regret, so I find myself taking action to make the day a great one no matter what the circumstances.

five min journal 1.jpeg

The journal is also packed with great science on the topic of gratitude. Writing about your future day in the morning will prep your brain to be on the lookout for more positive opportunities. You’ll find that by practicing gratitude, you’ll slowly become luckier in life, in all regards.

"Gratitude is more of a compliment to yourself than someone else."
- Raheel Farooq

2.  Gratitude Message

Sending an email or text to an old high school teacher, or even a best friend can be a great way to share your gratitude with others. The message does not have to be deep, emotional, or super fluffy. It can be a few words as simple as, “Hey, thanks so much for helping me move yesterday! It really made my day feel a lot less stressful!” Or maybe you want an excuse to reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a few months or even years. A gratitude message is the perfect approach; no one is ever upset to receive a ‘thank you’ from another person. Below is an email I wrote to one of my favorite high school teachers a few weeks ago.

"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."
- William James

3.  Write a Handwritten Letter

It may seem hard to believe, but the post office still exists. Take a pen and piece of paper, or even a card, and jot down a few lines of appreciation to literally anyone you care about. When I first started mailing gratitude cards, I felt a little self conscious because I thought my friends and family would think they were cheesy or just sort of unnecessary (I just saw you yesterday, why didn’t you just thank me then?) What I found instead were two real truths: 1. Most people love attention. 2. All people love feeling appreciated. No matter who you are, what you do for a living, or why you get up in the morning, I have yet to meet a single human that doesn’t get off from feeling appreciated, let alone a handwritten note reminding them of how awesome they are!

"Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy." - Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

4.  Say Thank You

Yes, actually speak those words to another human. In order to cultivate gratitude, we must first plant seeds of courage. At times, it can be oddly nerve-racking to tell someone we aren’t that close with or don’t even know at all “thank you”. It’s weird. It’s as if we think others will judge us, or react poorly to words or appreciation. It’s always okay to “unnecessarily” thank someone; no one has ever been harmed from feeling so incredibly over-appreciated (to my knowledge at least). However, taking someone (including yourself) for granted can become harmful and lead to destructive patterns.

"If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily."
- Gerald Good

5.  Meditate on Loving-Kindness

Loving-kindness meditation begins with developing a loving acceptance for oneself. Too often, we utter phrases like, “I can’t, I’m not good enough, I’m not etc.” without recognizing how destructive this is. Affirmations become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you keep telling yourself you’re bad at something, you most likely will be.

In practicing loving-kindness meditation, we focus our minds on what we are, what we can do, and just how incredible we actually are. Through loving-kindness, we learn to love ourselves.

It is only through loving ourselves that we are able to love others. After sending love to yourself during your meditation practice, you can start to sending that same love to others and reflecting on those that you really care about. If you’ve moved successfully from yourself to a loved one, you might even be inclined to try moving that love to a hostile person, or a relationship that you are struggling with.  

This meditation brings all of the aspects that we are grateful for, in others and ourselves, to the forefront of our minds.

Practice Makes Perfect

Gratitude is like any skill one develops in life; it is mastered only through consistent practice. I’ve found that the more I practice expressing gratitude for the good things in life, the easier it is to find the beauty in the bad. Like anything, however, this practice started out with fumbling, falling, and forcing myself to somehow be thankful for my struggles… I hated it. You might hate it too. You might even hate me for suggesting that you try it, and that’s okay. Just start by incorporating a few of the routines listed above into your daily life. You might be surprised by the abundance you’ve been overlooking.

If you'd like a custom-made card to give to a loved one, hit me up! I'd love to make a card for you :)