Small ways to be more grateful

Nearly everyone has something in their lives for which they can be grateful, whether large or small. It can sometimes be difficult, however, to remember that you have something in your life for which to be grateful, or to get started practicing gratitude. But there are things you can do each and every day to feel and be more grateful. 

"People often feel intimidated about starting a gratitude practice for two reasons, the first being that what they are grateful for isn't 'right' or 'enough.' We can and should be grateful for the big and little things in life," meditation coach and author Ali Katz told me. "Of course we are grateful for our loved ones and our health, but we can also be grateful for a yummy dinner or the perfect shade of lip gloss! It is the feeling of gratitude that is important, not the object of our appreciation." 

Cultivating a practice of gratitude in your everyday life will make you remember to be grateful more often, even when it seems like everything is falling apart. It can also help you feel more connected to those around you. Want to start a gratitude practice? Here are a few small ways that you can get started being more grateful each and every day.

Little things add up

You don't have to pull off grand gestures in order to show appreciation. A phone call, text message, quick hand-written note, warm touch, or even a grateful smile can all make a great big difference. 

"It's about a sincere direct connection with the person you want to acknowledge," dating and relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca told me. "The key is in the acknowledgment and validation of that individual, appreciating what they did and how much it means to you." 

Plus, according to research conducted at the University of North Carolina, recognizing and acknowledging to another person the little things for which you're grateful actually helped strengthen romantic relationships, making them, in general, more successful.

Don't only focus on the major events

It can be exceptionally tempting to save all of your gratitude for the big moments, like landing your dream job, the birth of your child, your wedding day, that loan coming through at just the right moment that lets you make your home or start your own business. There's no need, however, to just wait for those moments. You can absolutely celebrate each seemingly minor blessing that happens along the way. 

"Recognize how far you've come, the people you've met, and the lessons you've learned along the way," Katie Bennett, a certified coach and co-founder at Ama La Vida told me. Don't just wait until there's an obvious "something" for which to be grateful.

Volunteer

Helping other people reminds you how much you really have to be grateful for. Plant trees, tutor kids, work at a soup kitchen, sort donations, just get out there and do something for other people. There are resources, such as VolunteerMatch, that will help you find what you're most passionate about so that you can do work that you find meaningful when you're devoting time to help others.

"[H]elping others or listening to others' problems and lending an ear are good ways to 'get out of your head,'" therapist Kimberly Hershenson told me. Additionally, according to research published in BMC Public Health (via Huffington Post), volunteering might actually help you live longer, feel happier, have reduced risk of depression, and be generally healthier. That's a whole lot of benefits for giving of your time and resources.

Tell the people in your life how much they mean to you

People like to hear that they matter and that the things they do for you every day make a difference in your life — that you appreciate them. 

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor who founded The Marriage Restoration Project with his wife Rivka, told me that it's important to verbalize the things you appreciate about your partner. This also applies to other important people in your life. 

It isn't just the person receiving the gratitude that will be impacted, either. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, found (via Harvard Mental Health Letter) that people who were instructed to communicate gratitude and thanks to someone in their life for something they'd never thanked them for in the past felt surging feelings of happiness immediately after completing the project. Incorporate time to share those things with one another into your routine and everyone will reap the benefits. 

Focus on how far you've come

It can be easy to get bogged down in disappointments and everything that isn't going the way you wish it were. Don't give in to those feelings or let yourself wallow in the way things are or aren't or how you'd prefer to have them go.

"Remember your past hardships — think about hard times you've gone through and how you were able to get past them," said Hershenson. This exercise can also help you brainstorm ways to tackle current challenges.

Pick something to be grateful for each day

A very small way that you can try to be more grateful is by choosing one thing each day on which to focus your gratitude, said Slatkin. It'll help you zero in on the good in the day, even when the day seems overwhelmingly bad.

On harried, stressful days, it can be difficult to remember that gratitude is something that you choose. Katz had a suggestion about how to do so every day, no matter the circumstances. 

"I encourage them to tape a note that simply says 'gratitude' on their bathroom mirror near where they brush their teeth," she said. "When they are standing at the sink in the morning and evening they can glance at the word gratitude, and think of a few things they are grateful for. This is a really easy way to begin and end each day with appreciation."

Find the purpose

You can learn something from every letdown. That doesn't mean that what's happening doesn't hurt or isn't disappointing, but it can help you recognize what there is to be grateful for in the situation that seems like a lost cause. 

"Whenever you experience something negative in your life, search for the silver lining or way it grew you in some way," Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist, told me. "If you can latch onto that, it can provide purpose in the pain."

Keep a gratitude journal

An easy way to be more grateful every day is to keep a gratitude journal. Licensed psychologist and owner of LA Concierge Psychologist Dr. Crystal I. Lee told me that it "can be as simple as listing five things you are grateful for that day. Research has shown that consistently doing this simple act boosts overall levels of happiness." 

If you want to challenge yourself a little bit more, to remind yourself that you have so many things for which to be grateful, follow Fisher's advice. "To really make it effective, create a rule where you can't enter the same thing every day, which will force you to look for other things you're grateful for," he said.

Need another reason to keep a journal? According to research by the Emmons Lab at UC Davis, run by Dr. Robert Emmons, those who kept a gratitude journal were more likely to meet the goals they set for themselves after two months of journaling than those who didn't keep the journal. 

Look for the good

If you can notice the little things that happen throughout the day that are good and positive, that might help you be able to be more grateful across the board.

"Look for and notice good things happening," dating and relationship coach Christine Baumgartner told me. "Someone held the door for you, say thank you. Someone said good morning to you, say thank you. Someone lets you into a lane of traffic, wave thank you. Noticing and acknowledging these throughout your day will definitely help you feel more grateful." 

Developing a gratitude practice takes time

If you want to work on being more grateful for all that you have, it's likely not going to happen immediately. It'll take some time and effort in order to make it stick. 

"Treat gratitude as a muscle to strengthen, grow, and flex. How do you to that? You practice everyday until there is habit formation," Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, an international psychologist, told me. "Take the guesswork out and 'force' yourself (until it occurs naturally) to find one thing you are grateful for every single day. Even if it's a minute shaved off your drive time traffic, hearing a frog croak as a city dweller, or hugging your partner everyone morning before work, this builds up over time and helps shift your perspective to one of abundance and plentitude. Gratitude becomes a fun activity that completely changes perception." 

After a while, gratitude and appreciation will become second nature.