Maybe you keep a gratitude journal, listing a few things you’re grateful for at the end of each day, or maybe you even begin each day by being grateful for whatever comes. What you may also notice is that as the world becomes more troublesome and ‘dark’, the practice of gratitude and positivity becomes even more essential to our individual and global wellbeing.
It’s easy to forget gratitude when we’re coasting through life; it’s when we face the ups and downs that we remember how important it is to practise gratitude on a daily basis.
For many of us, our yoga asana, pranayama and meditation practices are top of the list most days, but gratitude is a practice we can do off the mat, and it can make a huge difference to the way we experience life.
9 simple ways to practise gratitude daily
1. Make it the first thing you do
As soon as you wake up, resist the urge to reach for your phone and check your emails or messages (unless you’re about to message someone and tell them you’re grateful for them!). Make the first thing you do that day be an act of gratitude towards yourself; feel the body you’re in, with all of its perfections and imperfections, and perhaps make the decision to accept it and love it; if we want to express love and gratitude for others, we have to have it for ourselves first….
2. Inspire your mind
Start your day with something inspirational like a morning poem, saying or prayer. I have this quote by the Dalai Lama on my bedroom wall, and it greets me each time I wake up in the morning:
‘Every day, think as you wake up;
Today I am fortunate to be alive
I have a precious human life
I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use all my energies to develop myself,
To expand my heart out to others;
To achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
I am going to have kind thoughts towards others,
I am not going to get angry or think badly about others.
I am going to benefit others as much as I can’
3. Move and breathe
Practise yoga, dance, go running, walk in nature, step outside and breathe in the morning air. Do something you enjoy. Be grateful for the body you have by moving it the way it likes to move.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights – Maya Angelou
4. Make a mindful meal
While preparing breakfast, just prepare breakfast. This is one of the most important lessons I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness…. (His exact advice was to ‘wash the dishes to wash the dishes and nothing else.) When we’re doing one action, we’re usually thinking about another, and therefore we’re never truly experiencing each moment fully. Fuel your body and mind with healthy foods that allow it to work to it’s full potential, and when you’re preparing it, engage with all the actions you’re doing. In many traditions, it’s common practice to give drishti to foods before consuming them; this means taking a moment to look at what you’re about to eat, and give a moment of thanks to all those who were involved in the process of making it before it reached your plate.
5. Take your time
Whether you’re preparing a meal or eating it, walking to work, taking the kids to school, shopping in the supermarket or cleaning the house, engage in it; perhaps being grateful for the fact that you do indeed have enough food to eat, you have children to take to a school, you have enough money to shop at a supermarket, or that you have a house to clean!
6. Engage with others
Acknowledge and connect with the people you usually ‘see but don’t see’; the bus driver, the person who serves your morning coffee, the postman, the milkman, that familiar face that always passes you on the way to work. If we can look people in the eye and either thank them for the service they’ve provided, or just simply smile, we’ll begin to spread acts of gratitude and positivity outward, and the cycle continues as more and more people engage and express gratitude outwardly.
If you have the time, use it to make a difference to someone else’s life, and to therefore express how grateful you are for your own. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal volunteering position at an organised charity, it could be volunteering to help someone with their heavy shopping bags, making tea for the whole office, or volunteering to take the rubbish bins out when it’s raining….
8. Tell someone
We do not tell each other how much we appreciate each other enough. It’s easy to say that we won’t all be here forever, but until that time comes, there’s never any urgency to tell those around us how important they are to our lives. Simply smiling, saying thank you, giving a genuine hug or going all-out and telling someone how much they mean to you is never a waste of time, and it’s the best daily practice you’ll ever do….
9. Appreciate the bigger picture
Whether it’s a rainy day that has spoiled your plans, a delayed train journey, misplaced keys, or physical aches and pains; each of them offers an opportunity for gratitude. It may take a little digging, but as the saying goes: ‘As one door closes, another one opens’. The fact that you’re sitting here reading this on a computer/phone screen in hopefully comfortable surroundings is enough to be grateful for!
Did you know…gratitude benefits health and happiness
It’s easy to point out the faults and mistakes of ourselves and those around us, and it’s easy to wallow in self-pity and comfortable discomfort when things aren’t going ‘our way’, but it turns out that feeling like this could actually be damaging to our health.
Negative emotions have an inflammatory effect on the body, while positive ones have exactly the opposite effect; they can help to heal us from the inside-out.
(For more on this, read Dr. Lissa Rankin’s fascinating book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself)
In a scientific study by Robert A. Emmons, participants were asked to write a short daily gratitude journal. He had already conducted this experiment with participants on a weekly basis – and this showed promising results of an increase of 25% in levels of ‘happiness’, and an increase in the amount of physical exercise the subjects took part in. This time however, the participants in Emmons’ daily experiments of gratitude showed additional significant benefits along-side increased happiness: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more technically, their “pro-social” motivation. 
The very same study showed yet more benefits of what gratitude can give us, including the fact that participants experienced ‘more satisfaction with their lives and were more optimistic about the future than the control group. Interestingly, the gratitude group also reported getting more sleep, spending less time awake before falling asleep and feeling more refreshed in the morning’. 
A study from Forbes also shows that expressing gratitude strengthens our relationships (both old and new), reduces levels of aggression, improves self-esteem and heightens our mental strength. 
Gratitude through the ups and downs
So, other than making ourselves happier and healthier by increasing our daily gratitude practice, what’s the point?…. Well, we’re making the world a better place, and that’s a pretty huge benefit of any practice.
Gratitude leads to other positive aspects of thoughts, feelings, emotions and expressions; feeling grateful can often make us feel more at peace, more compassionate, loving and thoughtful, but it’s not just about being grateful for all of the ‘lovely’ things we experience….
As I mentioned earlier, we usually feel grateful during the ‘ups’ and after the ‘downs’ of life; each wonderful event is indeed something to be celebrated, but each obstacle and challenge we face is also a gift and a blessing, because we often grow as a person and become so much stronger and more understanding towards others because of the lessons we’ve had to learn through that challenge. (Personally, when I think about what I’m truly grateful for; it’s actually the more difficult moments of life and the hardships which come to mind first, because they’ve all lead me to where I am now, and we all tend to learn a lot more from ‘messing up’ than from being ‘perfect’ all the time.) To truly understand what gratitude feels like, we often have to truly understand what loss and sorrow feel like first.
Rather than just setting aside time to contemplate what we’re grateful for at the end of the day, we could be using our practice of gratitude as an outward expression, which would mean we affect both our own happiness levels, and also of those around us.
Gratitude is about experiencing, drinking in and fully stepping into life (yes, the ‘good’ bits and the ‘bad’ bits). It’s about saying ‘yes’ and welcoming in whatever the day brings, and by doing that, we automatically begin to practise the art of being fully present and engaged with life too.
So, let’s not stop at thinking about being grateful, let’s be grateful, and bring gratitude into every aspect of life….
- Energise: gratefulness – feel your energy increase with this lovely 60 minute, all level, Vinyasa flow class with Esther Ekhart.