How to build a gratitude practice

A student updates her calendar while taking notes on a laptop computer in a classroom a

(Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Although it can feel difficult to name things that we’re grateful for during times of stress, loss, and anxiety, regularly saying thank you is one of the healthiest gifts you can give yourself. In fact, experts from the Center for Healthy Minds here at UW-Madison suggest that daily gratitude practice can increase happiness over time, and we’re all about that.

Keep reading for a few tips on how to cultivate your own daily gratitude practice.

Safety first. Writer’s block, right? Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. One easy way to begin a gratitude practice is to say thank you for the things that keep you and your loved ones safe. In a world where the day-to-day can feel a little nerve-wracking, calling out the things that keep you safe is a good place to start.

Focus on the now. These days, it seems like future uncertainty steals the spotlight in our minds. Rather than dwell on what’s to come, try saying thank you for things that we do have in the present moment. Write down three things you’re grateful for in this exact moment. Maybe it’s your heartbeat, or your breath, or the sweatshirt that’s keeping you warm. Tune in to your body and take a moment each day to acknowledge those things. Your body will thank you for it later.

Write thank you cards. One simple way to practice gratitude is by thanking those who have had a positive impact in your life. This is also the perfect opportunity to reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile and thank them for being part of your life. Even if you haven’t connected in awhile, it can be a great way to rebuild the connection and show them that you care. If you’re not comfortable sending mail right now, try writing thank you notes to send later on. When you finally get to put them in the mail, it’ll feel great sending a stack of happy feelings into the universe! And if snail mail isn’t your style, you could try E-cards. American Greetings allows a 7-day free trial of greeting cards.

Thank nature. Our Interim Director Mick Miyamoto can speak to the power of practicing gratitude:

“I keep a daily journal of identifying just one thing that I was grateful for each and every day. Clearly there were some days in which I could have written several and others that made me stretch to find one….but that’s life, yes? Even though I think my general orientation in life is to have a positive outlook, the impact of this exercise was profound. I found it much easier to choose to find the good in others even in challenging times. I think in some ways it might be analogous to move from existing, to living well, to flourishing…”

Mick devotes a moment of mindfulness each day to observing something beautiful in nature. He notices “animals, trees, plants, water, light, a gentle breeze.” Try it out by going outside and enjoying the warmer weather!

Journaling. Finally, good old-fashioned journaling is a perfect way to keep track of your gratitude practice. You can start small by writing down three things that you’re grateful for each day. Or, try purchasing a journal that has prompts included. This will allow you to answer a prompt each day, and encourage you to keep writing. There are even websites that have seemingly endless gratitude journaling prompts. Finally, if doodling is one of your favorite pastimes, you might enjoy bullet journaling; it’s a fun and creative way to track your gratitude practice. This inspiration will keep you journaling (and drawing) for hours. (You can thank us later.)

At Rec Well, we are grateful for you, our Active Badger community. Thank you for helping us continue to build a movement even when we can’t be together. We couldn’t do it without you.