It’s November, and you know what that means: We’re approaching the holiday that reminds us to be appreciative. But we don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving—we can flex our gratitude muscle every day. In fact, doing so increases our happiness, strengthens our immune systems and improves our satisfaction for each moment.
Like all developing skills, gratitude is a muscle that can be strengthened with practice, one the sociologist Georg Simmel called “the moral memory of mankind.” Psychologist Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading researchers on gratitude and the author of Gratitude Works!: A Twenty-One-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity and Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, says the emotion has two components. The first, he says, is that it affirms good things in the world. The second is that we recognize that the sources of all that goodness are outside of ourselves.
So, how can we practice gratitude? Here are some ideas from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action, a collaboration between UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) and HopeLab, for focusing on the positive and paying it forward.
5 Ways to Practice Gratitude Right Now
1. Write a gratitude letter.
Think about someone who’s done something incredibly kind for you that you have never properly thanked. Write him or her a letter expressing your gratitude and try to deliver it in person. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been.
2. Take a sensory walk.
How often do we rush from place to place unconscious of what surrounds us? Take a walk near your home and pay attention to the sensations around you. Spend some time with a tree or building, notice the sound of the birds, and observe the light. Take all of it in and let yourself appreciate each sensation. (Read How to Forest Bathe at Work to learn how this practice can help you reap more than just gratitude.)
3. Keep a gratitude journal.
4. Teach gratitude to your children.
Discuss with your children an act of kindness that they could do for a classmate, friend or family member and help them carry it out. Afterward, ask them how that person responded and how they felt about their act of kindness. Then try to model this behavior for them on a regular basis.
5. Make gratitude place cards.
During holiday meals, surprise your guests by writing what you love and appreciate about each one of them on handmade place cards. It might be a nice exercise to read them aloud once all are seated at the table. (Check out our 5 Steps to Creating an All-Inclusive Holiday Gathering article for more ingenious ideas on how to enjoy the holidays with family and friends.)