“An honest regret for harms done, a genuine gratitude for blessings received, and a willingness to try for better things tomorrow will be the permanent assets we shall seek.”
12&12 Step Ten, p.95
Gratitude is one of the most valuable recovery tools. Expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better. We often hear that adopting an attitude of gratitude helps us change from feeling resentment to feeling love.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings.
The dictionary defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
When living a 12-steps way of life, we rely on a power greater than ourselves. One of the benefits of gratitude is that it helps people connect to something larger than themselves. When you pay attention to the goodness in your life, it takes your focus away from the negative and it creates a higher emotional vibration.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people strengthen their immune system, improve their health, relieve stress, and feel more positive about themselves as well as the world around them.
Research on gratitude
In a research study on gratitude, two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, asked all participants to write a few sentences each week which focused on particular topics.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, the studied showed that those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and made less trips to the doctor than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. One week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. This group immediately exhibited an increase in happiness scores that was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.
Other research studied the impact of gratitude on relationships. One study of couples found that those who expressed gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward the other person which led to them feeling more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
Gratitude also has its place in the workforce. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group was told by their manager that she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard the message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.
Other studies have shown that keeping gratitude journals and writing thank-you notes to people who have made a difference in their lives didn’t necessarily improve their own well-being but made the other person, the recipient, happier. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment linked with emotional maturity.
How to create a gratitude practice
It is clear that creating an attitude of gratitude can be very beneficial to recovery and to life in general. At the same time, there are different recovery tools that we want to use consistently because managing recovery and life often becomes overwhelming. How can you bring more gratitude to life without making it “hard work,” something that requires a lot of effort? The key is to make it fun and simple. There are many ways you can practice gratitude, and there are no right or wrong ways. Approaching someone with a smile or writing a thankful note might work for one person while keeping a gratitude journal might be better for another. My experience with gratitude is that people get excitement from different practices, so it is important to have a “what’s fun for me” approach rather than a “one size fits all” approach. Below you will find a list of different practices that I’ve received good feedback from people whom I’ve suggested this practice to. Many (if not all) of these practices I use myself and find them to be very effective, positive, and uplifting.
Start small. Choose your favorite practices from the list below and start practicing them daily. Make it a priority by adding it to your daily schedule. Some of these practices take only 5 minutes. The key is to make it fun and make it simple!
8 fun ways to practice gratitude
The “A-Z Gratitude List”
I recently heard an interview with one of my favorite speakers, Bernard Siegel. Bernie is an American writer and retired pediatric surgeon who writes about the relationship between the patient and the healing process. He is known for his best-selling book Love, Medicine, and Miracles. In this interview, Bernie shares this cool gratitude practice:
Beginning on the first day of the month, in the morning, say what you’re grateful for by picking 3 things that begin with a letter of the alphabet. For the first 26 days of the month, start with the letter A on the first day, B on the second day, C on the third day and go on through all the letters. At the end of the month you have a few days off. The following month start over and come up with new words, not using words you’ve used before. It gets more difficult as you go on. You might be walking your dog and find yourself thinking for 20 minutes about your current letter, trying to find words you have not used before. It’s a good exercise for the brain and a fun way to focus on gratitude.
The “Top 3 Things” practice
Bruce D. Schneider, Ph.D., founder of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), shares in one of his coaching programs this following practice. Within one hour of waking up, list in your gratitude journal the 3 best things that happened to you so far today. At any time during the day if something “makes the list,” place it in its proper place (either 1,2, or 3) and remove the last item. Continue throughout the day looking for things to make the list.
The “What Went Well” practice – (no pen and notebook needed!)
If journaling or writing down your gratitude list are not for you, adopt this simple practice. Every night when you get into bed, play the “what went well” game. Ask yourself: “what went well today?” Start adding things to your list, only focusing on what went well that day. Keep going until you fall asleep.
Read a gratitude meditation
In his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, Jack Kornfield shares a beautiful gratitude meditation. Kornfield is one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America, a practitioner for over 40 years, an author, and a speaker. “Expressing gratitude to our benefactors is a natural form of love,” says Kornfield. “In fact, some people find lovingkindness for themselves so hard, they begin their practice with a benefactor. This too is fine. The rule in lovingkindness practice is to follow the way that most easily opens your heart.”
Watch a stunning gratitude video
In his 9-minute TED film, American director, producer, and cinematographer, Louie Schwartzberg, shares his interpretation of gratitude, reflected by nature’s. His stunning time-lapse photography, accompanied by powerful words from Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, serves as a meditation on being grateful for every day. Watch it on a big computer screen if you can and immerse yourself in gratitude.
Here are some additional practices even simpler than the ones above:
Write a thank-you note
Expressing your appreciation will nurture any relationship. Write a note and email it, text it, or even better, mail it. From time to time, call someone and read them your thank-you note.
Choose words of appreciation
Watch your language! Words have power, and when you consciously choose to use positive and thankful words it helps create a positive attitude. Starting conversations (even hard ones) with appreciation sets the tone for a positive conversation.
Whenever you read, write, or express appreciation and gratitude, pay attention to your feelings. Don’t just say it. Open your heart and feel it.
Author Melody Beattie says:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and
more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to
clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a
stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace
for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Thank you for reading this article. I am truly grateful that you took the time and were curious to learn how to bring more gratitude to your life. I would love to hear your comments in the comments area. Feel free to share your own personal ways of expressing gratitude.
I appreciate you!
Emmons RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology(Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.
Grant AM, et al. “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (June 2010): Vol. 98, No. 6, pp. 946–55.
Lambert NM, et al. “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior,” Emotion (Feb. 2011): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 52–60.
Sansone RA, et al. “Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,” Psychiatry (Nov. 2010): Vol. 7, No. 11, pp. 18–22.
Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist (July–Aug. 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21.