Categorized | Featured, Psychology

10 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude & Become Happier

Updated: Jan 19, 2011

Gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to improve your well-being and among other things, increasing your happiness. Within positive psychology inquiries, gratitude interventions have proven to be among the most effective, as world expert on gratitude Robert A. Emmons and other researchers have found. Among the wide ranging benefits, researchers have found that “gratitude is positively related to such critical outcomes as life satisfaction, vitality, happiness, self-esteem, optimism, hope, empathy, and the willingness to provide emotional and tangible support for other people, whereas being ungrateful is related to anxiety, depression, envy, materialism and loneliness.” (p. 186)

“A person with the disposition to feel grateful has established a worldview that says, in effect, that all of life is a gift, gratuitously given. Although we cannot in any direct way be grateful, we can cultivate gratefulness by structuring our lives, our minds, and our words in such a way as to facilitate awareness of gratitude-inducing experiences and labeling them as such.” (p. 187) In other words “gratitude is a way of life.” (p. 186)

(Gratitude is one of the 24 Character Strengths included in the VIA Survey of Character Strengths which is a scientifically validated measurement designed to identify what your top signature strengths are.)

The top 10 evidence-based prescriptions for becoming more grateful:

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal (p. 189)

write down, be specific, avoid repetition

  • Write down the blessings you are grateful for.
  • Create a habit of becoming aware and paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events.
  • Be as specific as possible. Try not to just list people and events but rather list what exactly a person did what aspects of an event you are grateful for.
  • Watch out not to keep repeating the same list day after day, make a conscious effort to think of new things you are grateful for.
  • “Take the time to be especially aware of the depth of your gratitude.” (p. 191)

2. Remember the Bad (p. 191)

  • “When we remember how difficult life used to be and how far we have come, we set up an explicit contrast in our mind, and this contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness.” (p. 191)

3. Ask Yourself Three Questions (p. 192)

recognize: gifts, connectedness, pain you cause

Reflect on the following three questions daily for about 20min in the evening:

  • “What have I received from _____?” – recognizing the gifts we have received
  • “What have I given to ______?” – how connected we are to others
  • “What troubles and difficulties have I caused _____?” – acknowledging the pain we cause

4. Learn Prayers of Gratitude (p. 194)

  • Pick a prayer of gratitude that suits you, your faith, your religion, or the absence thereof.
  • One suggested by Robert A. Emmons is by Thich Nhat Hanh that will suit any faith as well as the faithless:

“Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks
for the many wonders of life;
for having twenty-four brand-new hours before me.” (p. 196)

(Robert found in his studies that prayer helps with achieving goals)

5. Come to Your Senses (p. 197)

  • Being grateful for our senses of touch, see, smell, taste, and hear, just like we are grateful for our health.

6. Use Visual Reminders (p. 198)

mindfulness, reminders, share with others

  • Forgetfulness and the absence of mindful awareness are two primary obstacles to being grateful. (p. 199)
  • Work desk, fridge, bathroom door, computer, cell phones, car, wallet …
  • Having an accountability partner with whom you share or swap gratitude lists is a good way not to forget. (p. 200)

7. Make a Vow to Practice Gratitude (p. 201)

  • You increase the likelihood of practicing gratitude and sticking with it when you let your friends and family know, make it a public pronouncement, and post reminders of it.

8. Watch Your Language (p. 203)

express gratitude when talking to others & to yourself

  • Words we use when we talk to others and to ourselves create much of our perception of reality.
  • Express your gratitude to others.
  • Change your mood by changing what you say to yourself. Engaging in “gratitude self-talk that draws our attention to the positive contributions that others have made to our lives will simultaneously favorably impact our environmental well-being while strengthening our social bonds.” (p. 205)

9. Go Through the Motions (p. 205)

express gratitude, remember it, spend time with those who do likewise

  • Do things that will help you be grateful.
  • Spend more time with grateful people.
  • Say, “Thank You.”
  • Write gratitude letters.
  • Express your gratitude to others.
  • Count your blessings.
  • Doing these things even when you don’t feel grateful is better than not doing them at all. Research shows feelings will follow your behavior. You behave grateful and you will start feeling grateful.

10. Think Outside the Box (p. 206)

  • Express gratitude to those who harm you.
  • Be grateful to those whom you benefit.

Which of these have had the biggest impact in your life? Please share your experiences what has works well for you as well as those you had less success applying in your life. For everyone benefit, keep the conversation going and leave a comment :)

Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier (illustrated, annotated ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


This post was written by:

- who has written 88 posts on Optimal Functioning – positive psychology & physical health.

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48 Responses to “10 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude & Become Happier”

  1. Sar says:

    Hey Hans, just checked this. Going to try it out. Thanks for showing this to me. Trying to find some light amongst gray clouds, though I also love the darkness. The darkest darkness. As you know I don’t have the cash for these books, and I get ideas from freely windowing shopping stuff. So a special thank you for the quotes and pages numbers. If I ever do find the book at AsiaBooks (easier to find) or Kinokuya (rarer, b/c I gotta pay more to get there) I’ll definitely try a read. :D I’ll put up a link back to this whenever my blog is ready if you want, though it goes off a different tradition: that of the catharsis.

    • Hans Rippel says:

      I'm glade you like the article. Here I covered mostly the practical side of the book. I am writing another post that will give you the jist of what Robert Emmons' book Thanks! is all about. That should have the main concepts and ideas. Nevertheless, if you get a chance I'd still recommend you to read the book. It's a short ready but packed with a wealth of information. Let me know which of the 10 works the best for you.
      And I will try to post relevant researches and links to PDFs so you can get them without having to pay.
      Let me know what your blog is and link backs would be a great way to keep the conversation going :)

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  2. Barbaa says:

    This is a great article. I posted it to my Facebook to share with others….thanks!

  3. Brooke says:

    Some of my family and friends and I have known this for a long time, but most people I talk to just dont "get it" to them its like voo doo or something. In other words its not real for them, so of course it doesnt work for them… But lately Ive heard more recognition from the media and people talking about it more and Im really glad someones posting actual scientific findings to back it up. Continue spreading the word and there will be a better world for everyone!

    And to all the skeptics, just have an open mind and try it for a while. but if your going to do it, do it right. and no, it wont turn your life around in a week… youll still have the same hateful coworker, and still have to work hard at math. but after almost a year of trying to have a more positive attitude, I went from suicidal and hurting myself to knowing life is a good thing and becoming more of the person I WANT to be.

  4. Jeton says:

    I have started grdtutiae lists several times, but run out of steam after about 50 items.. The daily list is more structured and will mean listing 90 or 95 things.It’s only a small additional stretch to 100.Awesome!Thanks for the inspiration.Ann Bell

  5. Karen Fourie says:

    Thanks Hans, No 7 is by far the one that I decided to stick with. If it was not for "Make a Vow to Practice Gratitude" – I think I most probably would think gratitude is whoo hoo and for the looney's – not me. For once I tried it and I never stopped again. Thanks for sharing other ways to cultivate gratitude. We often read these words and do not know what they even mean. Then someone comes along and put them in a slight different manner and whala – we understand it much easier and also to practice it looks much easier.
    Best wishes Karen @smalleffortsdaily :)

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