The art of gratitude: 10 habits of thankful people

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Gratitude is far more than remembering to say please and thank you.

It’s an entire framework that you can use to remind yourself of all the good things in life.

Of course, it doesn’t make the bad things magically go away.

But science proves that when you make gratitude a habit, it does help you deal better with adversity.

And that’s not all, being thankful also brings out more positive emotions, encourages you to relish good experiences, and even builds stronger relationships.

What exactly are gratitude habits?

This article will show you how to harness the power of gratitude.

So let’s dive in.

1) Thankful people pay attention to the little things

 Life is full of tiny miracles, but we often fail to notice them.

The problem is that the more familiar we become with anything, it tends to lose its impact.

It could be your dream to live by the ocean.

But when you finally do, after a few years, you may find that you wake up every day and barely notice your location anymore.

That’s why it matters less what you have, and more how much you pay attention to what you have.

The better we get at paying attention, the more thankful we feel.

Mindfulness helps you to really appreciate all the little things.

You can train yourself to really focus on the feel of the warm sunshine on your skin, the sound of the birds tweeting in the trees, and the blooming of the flowers early in Spring.

Thankful people pay attention to what is right in front of them so they don’t end up taking it for granted.

2) Thankful people think about how much worse it could be

This habit might come as a surprise.

Especially as we tend to think of gratitude as something that teaches you to look on the bright side of life.

So why on earth would you start thinking about how much worse it could be?

Because perspective is powerful.

Our brains can quickly catastrophize things.

And let’s face it, a lot of those things in the grand scheme of life aren’t such a big deal.

What I mean is they aren’t exactly life or death.

Sure, it’s annoying when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, when the server brings you the wrong order, or your internet goes down.

But we can end up treating life’s annoyances as a far bigger deal than they really are.

In a weird way, recognizing that things could be a whole lot worse helps give context to what you are experiencing.

Research, for example, has found that when people visualized their own death, their gratitude notably increased.

Sometimes contemplating loss or being worse off can help us remember how lucky we are.

3) Thankful people practice gratitude regularly

 Here’s the thing:

It would be very nice if we could all wake up every day full of the joys of spring. We would hop out of bed with a cheery disposition.

But real life isn’t like that. And all the toxic positivity in the world is never going to put a stop to bad days or bad moods.

Hey, it happens to us all.

No matter how lucky you are, no matter how blessed in life, no matter how grateful you feel.

Gratitude, just like any other personal development tool is about practice.

Do it once, and you might feel a little instant boost. But to really unleash its full power, it needs to become a habit.

That’s why the most thankful people make gratitude practice part of their routine.

Setting time aside once a week is enough. In fact, one study found you don’t need to overdo gratitude or it can lose its impact if it starts to become lip service.

You can consciously incorporate gratitude into your life a variety of ways:

  • You can create a gratitude journal and write out the things you feel most thankful for.
  • You can share with a loved one (partner, friend, family member, etc.) the things you feel grateful for. For example, I have a friend who shares what she is thankful for from her day with her other half every night before they go to bed.
  • You can do in-depth journal questions around gratitude.

Research has shown the more specific and detailed we are about what we are thankful for the greater the result. This brings us nicely to our next point…

4) Thankful people get really specific about what they are grateful for

 We’ve talked about how complacency leads to a drop in gratitude.

 That’s why habitually reeling off every morning a few cliched “I am thankful for” may not have the impact you hope. 

Research shows that we get far more out of a gratitude practice when we describe something we’re thankful for in detail.

Getting really specific helps to bring out the positive emotions associated with it.

Give it a try, and see if you can feel the difference.

Rather than saying “I’m grateful for my health” really delve into why.

What exactly are you grateful for? What are the emotions associated with it? What does it bring to your life?

Don’t just go through the motions.

Thankful people strive for depth, rather than staying superficial with their gratitude.

5) Thankful people express their gratitude to others

I mentioned in the intro of this article that gratitude has been shown to improve your relationships.

Well, research also shows that focusing on the people who you are grateful for is more impactful than focusing on the things you’re grateful for.

It makes sense, relationships account for a large part of our well-being. Having strong connections helps us deal better with stress.  

Research has found that couples who show their gratitude to each other not only had better marriages but were also less likely to get divorced.

Thankful people express their gratitude to those around them. They show appreciation and they give compliments freely.

6) Thankful people don’t feel entitled to what they have

 The enemy of gratitude is perhaps entitlement.

We fail to notice our blessings when we feel they are owed to us.

When expectation creeps in it kills gratitude.

When we take things for granted, we no longer feel the positive effects of what we are lucky to have.

But when you think it can all go in the flash of an eye, it helps you to feel even more appreciative.

Thankful people make sure they don’t ever fall into a sense of entitlement.

They realize it sets you up for disappointment. Because you never feel like you are getting out of life what you are owed whenever you feel entitled.

7) Thankful people look for the good, even in the bad

 Who isn’t thankful for breakfast in bed, a day of work, or a night out with friends?

Let’s be honest, some things are easy to feel grateful for.

But others, not so much.

Yet the most thankful people in life don’t stop at just feeling grateful for their blessings.

No, the most thankful people try to find gratitude hidden away in what can feel like a curse.

Sometimes hindsight can help with this seemingly impossible task.

For example, many years ago I was living with a partner who I also worked with.

When he cheated on me with our colleague, I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly brimming over with gratitude about that.

But with a bit of work, I was able to reframe that experience and feel genuinely thankful for it.

For starters, it’s better to know sooner rather than later, right? You’re better off knowing if it’s not meant to be. That way you can find someone else.

Starting with these small reframes, helps you to focus on the positive in even a pretty shitty situation.

Fast forward to just one year later I was thanking my lucky stars for what happened. As it ultimately opened up a whole new world of adventures that I would have never experienced otherwise.

Along with gratitude, thankful people try to practice non-judgment.

Rather than jumping to conclusions and getting immersed in the bad, they try to keep an open mind.

That helps them to go searching for the silver lining, even in bad situations.

It’s not about ignoring pain or negative things in your life. Emotions always need to be processed rather than glossed over.

But it is about trying to frame life’s experiences to your advantage.

That way we can appreciate that suffering can be an important stepping stone towards a better life.

Or to put it another way:

If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.

8) Thankful people don’t wait for a reason to feel grateful

Happiness is a state of mind. It’s an internal process, not an external one.

The problem is that society tells us the opposite.

Society can lead us to believe that the way to have a happy life is to achieve more, buy more, and “become” more.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with ambitions, goals, and being successful. These can be wonderful things.

But they can also rob us of our contentment when we place our happiness on specific future events.

I’m talking about the whole: “I will be happy when” phenomenon.

You tell yourself you will feel happy and grateful when you lose 10 lbs, when you finally get that promotion, or when you find the love of your life.

But thankful people aren’t pinning all their happiness on “one day”.

Instead, they find reasons to be thankful right now.

There aren’t rigid conditions and constraints on their gratitude.

They create it, rather than wait for external events to give them something to be grateful about.

9) Thankful people avoid making comparisons

It’s true that comparison really is the thief of joy.

Sometimes a quick scroll through social media can put us in a bad mood for this very reason.

It’s all too easy to end up comparing yourself and your life to other people.

Despite only getting a very limited perception of someone else’s reality, that still doesn’t stop us from feeling bad.

Todd has a new car, he’s so lucky. Sandra just landed the job of her dreams, I’m so envious. Michael is currently sunning himself in the Bahama’s, I wish that were me.

This biggest problem is that there will always be someone who is better looking than you, richer than you, smarter than you…and the list goes on.

Thankful people try to stay in their own lane and focus their energy on their own life.

They know that making unfair comparisons can quickly rob them of their gratitude.

10) Thankful people pay it forward

 I was queuing in the bakery the other day and witnessed a really sweet scene.

A man came in to thank the woman serving behind the counter for a recommendation she gave him.

Apparently, he’d enjoyed it so much that he returned with a little gift for her. Just a small token of his appreciation.

It was such a nice moment. She was clearly thrilled by the gesture.

Even as a bystander, witnessing this made my day and gave me a little glowing feeling that stayed with me.

Gratitude is contagious.

Thankful people in life end up sharing their blessings with those around them. 

In fact, statistics show that grateful people give 20% more of their time and money to others. 

Gratitude promotes kindness and better connection within communities. As highlighted by Robert Emmons, a gratitude researcher:

“Gratitude is more than a pleasant feeling; it is also motivating. Gratitude serves as a key link between receiving and giving: It moves recipients to share and increase the very good they have received. Because so much of human life is about giving, receiving, and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal concept for our social interactions.”

Your own gratitude doesn’t just serve you, it benefits others too.

Louise Jackson

My passion in life is communication in all its many forms. I enjoy nothing more than deep chats about life, love and the Universe. With a masters degree in Journalism, I’m a former BBC news reporter and newsreader. But around 8 years ago I swapped the studio for a life on the open road. Lisbon, Portugal is currently where I call home. My personal development articles have featured in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Thrive Global and more.

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