You’ve probably heard gratitude is an attitude, but it’s more than that. When we practice gratitude, we react to unexpected events with delight instead of disappointment. We savor positive experiences, making them richer and more fulfilling. A thankful heart also prevents us from overlooking everyday blessings, like a delicious dinner or a warm bed.
Gratitude is an active process of acknowledging goodness and recognizing its source, according to Robert Emmons, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. “While gratitude is pleasant, it is not easy,” Emmons notes. “We have to work at it.”
Counting (and recounting) blessings has benefits. Research shows people who practice gratitude feel greater joy and connectedness, cope better with stress, and experience less illness and depression. Put these prompts on your family calendar now. In thirty days, thankful thoughts and pay-it-forward actions will be almost automatic.
1. Write it out. List three things you’re grateful for today. Do it again tomorrow. Gratitude journals focus emotional energy on what’s right, not what’s wrong.
2. Rock out to “I Thank You,” by rhythm and blues legends Sam and Dave while you clean or cook dinner. Get the kids in on the act. It’s impossible to be ungrateful when you boogie to this beat.
3. Acknowledge your partner’s financial, practical and emotional contributions to the household. Look him or her in the eye and say “thank you for working to support our family” or “thank you for doing the laundry.”
4. Pen a traditional thank-you note to someone who doesn’t expect it, like the bus driver, your babysitter or a crossing guard. Seal it with a smiley-face sticker.
5. Give a bouquet of fall flowers to someone you appreciate. Mums speak volumes.
6. Set a grateful example. Say “thank you” for kids’ help with table-setting or toy-room cleanup. Go global – say “Gracias,” “Danke” or “Merci!” – to make it more memorable.
7. Light a candle and spend 3 minutes focused on one recent blessing. Can’t light up? Go to gratefulness.org/candles and light a virtual version instead.
8. Be grateful for financial resources. Make a microloan to someone who needs it to get back on their feet. Learn more at worldvisionmicro.org or kiva.org.
9. Bring a comforting dinner to someone who nurtures the good in others. Fall food doesn’t need to be fussy. Soup and bread are perfect for sharing.
10. Make collages of the people, places and opportunities for which you’re most grateful. Cut out pictures from magazines or make a word cloud at Wordle.net. Laminate your creations to use as a placemats.
11. Bake “thankful pie” using your family’s favorite ingredients (apples, pears or sugar pumpkins). Savor the bounty of this year’s local harvest.
12. Take a walk through the woods and notice the color and texture of the leaves, the cooler dampness of the air. Be thankful for the changing seasons.
13. Go online to merchants who make or sell objects you love. Take 10 minutes to give ratings or write a review. The merchant (and the next shopper) will appreciate it.
14. Do date night with your significant other or one of the kids. Tune in to what makes you smile, laugh and sigh when you’re together.
15. Decorate your table with fall gourds or flowers to celebrate the beauty of nature.
16. Bake “thank you” bread using a monkey bread recipe (Allrecipes.com has easy, delicious ones). As kids pull off each piece, have them share something for which they are grateful. Grownups play (and eat), too.
17. Remember bad times, like frustrations, failures and losses. Notice how much better things are right now. Focus on resiliency and renewal.
18. Inspire others. Describe one unexpected blessing you’ve received today in a status update on Facebook or Twitter.
19. Rake leaves into piles. Before bagging, do a running leap into a leaf pile and shout “thank you!” Be grateful for silly, spontaneous fun.
20. Post thankful expressions in visible locations at home and at work. Sneak one into your child’s lunchbox while you’re at it.
21. Stop by the principal’s office and tell her three things you appreciate about your child’s teacher, coach or curriculum. Her job is (mostly) thankless.
22. In line at the coffee counter or drive-thru, pay for the drink of the patron behind you. Your generosity will boost their energy and their mood.
23. Speak up publicly (at work or at church) and highlight others’ help and support. Your recognition might be just what someone needs today.
24. Write a letter of thanks to each of your children. Explain how they’ve changed your life for the better. Give the notes now, or tuck them into kids’ baby books.
25. Appreciate animal affection. Pet your dog or cat for 10 minutes, and focus on times you’ve shared. Be grateful for your pet’s unconditional love.
26. Practice random thankfulness. Pick simple cues – like common words – or set an alarm. Use them to trigger thankful thoughts.
27. Uproot worn-out fall flowers and plant bulbs in their place. Anticipate spring. Optimism is gratitude to grow on.
28. Do a walking meditation focused on your own goodness. Be grateful for your health, for your mind and for your talents. Affirm yourself.
29. Volunteer your time and talents to serve others. Go to volunteermatch.org or serve.gov to find local opportunities by zip code.
30. Take a picture of your family holding “thank you” signs. Design an e-card or print custom notes to send to holiday gift-givers.
This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for 2016.