How to Be More Grateful: Ask the Experts

January 28, 2016

Categories: Gratitude

One thing I’m working on this year is to be more grateful. I’m always on the lookout for new exercises or practices to help cultivate gratitude in my life. To help me (and you) become more grateful, I asked several experts in the field this question:

What is the most effective practice or exercise you have used to cultivate gratitude in your own life?

Here’s what they said:

For me personally, keeping in mind overcoming a particularly large medical problem, how much support I had, and how it could have ended up is what makes me most grateful.

Dr. Alex Wood, University of Stirling

So, I think my favorite way of practicing gratitude is via counterfactuals – that is, trying to imagine in as vivid way as possible NOT having something. For example, what if I had never met my husband? Got into my dream college? And the biggest — what if my kids had never been born (especially the 3rd & 4th one, whom I had in my mid-40s).

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of California—Riverside

In terms of long term effectiveness, for me the most effective gratitude treatment is the version of grateful recounting that we have employed in some of our outcome studies. I write down three good things that have happened or I became aware of in the last 48 hours, and then write a bit about how each makes me feel grateful. When I do this exercise daily, I try to vary it a bit by recounting specific things and also more general things like life itself. I will also vary it some by trying to look at different sources of gratitude (benefactors such as spouse, children, God, friends, my students, etc.), and I find this is helpful too. I also try to vary it according to the situation, so for example, when it’s the end of the quarter and most of my interaction with students is a few of them complaining about their grades, I try to recount blessings from the other 90% of students who make my work so fulfilling.

Dr. Philip Watkins, Eastern Washington University

My favorite gratitude habit is writing emails to the people who matter in my life about why I appreciate them.

Dr. Adam Grant, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Lately, I have been trying to intentionally stop and savor moments during the day. I think doing this induces a bit of gratitude, along with other emotions. Often I stop and savor positive things, like one of my children smiling at me in church. But sometimes I like to savor more mundane things, like the fact I can walk without pain. Similarly, I have tried to find things to savor even in events that might otherwise be appraised as negative. So for instance, one of my children needs a lot of constant and costly therapy, but I like to stop even during those moments and feel grateful for the fact that we have insurance that helps us with the cost and we have not yet had to make difficult choices in this domain.

Dr. JoAnn Tsang, Baylor University

For me, I take a more general approach to cultivate a life orientation of gratitude. Specifically, I consistently focus on all of the positive in my life. This doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to the negative; I know it’s there. But I make a conscious effort to focus on all of my blessings—and I do this DAILY! I also say many prayers of thanksgiving daily to God because I know that He is the source of all of my goodness.

Dr. Jeffrey Froh, Hofstra University

Action Step: Pick the gratitude practice or exercise you like the most, and try it out this week!


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  1. […] I think the scarcity mentality is poisonous to cultivating an attitude of gratitude. […]

  2. […] Practice gratitude. This might seem counter-intuitive, because you might feel stuck in your feelings of sadness and loss. But sometimes we tend to narrow our focus on the things we are upset about, and forget about all the other things in our life that are going well. So it can be helpful to shift your focus toward the things in your life that you are thankful for. Another twist on practicing gratitude is to think about whether you might have any feelings of gratitude toward the family member whom you lost this year. For example, although you might feel a deep sense of sadness about your grandparent’s passing, you might also feel gratitude about the close relationship you had with them, and how they contributed to the person you are today. […]

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