How to Be Grateful


It’s not an easy thing to continuously feel grateful. But it’s good for you! We’ve heard that enough times. Research has proven it quite thoroughly - it makes you happier, reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, increases your overall well-being. But, despite what we read online, what we’re told, what we learn from research, feeling gratitude is difficult. It takes effort. Most people aren’t going to naturally feel grateful all the time, especially in a culture where success, motivation, and “the grind” are so highly promoted. You can’t be fully grateful for what you have and desire to have something different at the same time. But you can try. Like most things in life, you can achieve a balanced outcome.

Let’s use an example. You just got a raise at work. It wasn’t as much as you wanted, but it was pretty good. It also wasn’t enough that you’ve now reached your financial goals and feel completely satisfied with your career. This is how the “I got a raise” situation will go for most people. You’ll end up feeling good about it for a little while - maybe you’ll feel grateful - but eventually you’ll go back to how you were feeling before the raise. You’ll want more. And you’ll forget about how feeling grateful for the things you’ve been given, the things you’ve achieved, etc.

We’re biologically wired to feel this way. It’s called the hedonic treadmill. You can’t escape it!

And it’s ok to feel this way! Having a drive to succeed, a desire to grow, is a good thing! From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s the primary reason our species has grown to be such a dominant force on this planet - we’re wired to keep doing better. But how do we balance these desires with gratitude? How can we make sure that we remain grateful for what we have but also continue growing and achieving more? If we want all those great things - more feelings of happiness, less stress and anxiety, etc - we’ll need to be more grateful, more appreciative for what we already have.

It can be as simple as a daily habit. Personally, I use daily habits (and a tracking app) for maintaining my personal growth. I use the lessons learned from Atomic Habits to push towards my goals and make small progress every day. This same pattern can apply to gratitude. Do something small every day that makes you feel truly grateful. You don’t have to feel grateful all day, just a little bit each day. Small, consistent reminders can have dramatic long-term effects.

One daily practice that I’ve pulled from my Catholic background happens at the dinner table, or really whenever you’re sitting down with family to have some food. You don’t have to pray - you don’t have to be religious at all. You just need to be grateful for a short moment. Take a moment, right before you eat, and be aware of what things in your life you are grateful for.

There are several ways of doing this. You can simply have a moment of silence, with the shared understanding that what you’re doing is remembering the things you’re grateful for. You can also share these things verbally - go around the table and share 1 thing with the group. (This method is especially great if you have young children!) You can make this practice your own in whatever way you like. The only goal is to actually feel grateful for something in your life.

You’d be surprised how big of a difference this simple act can make. Just a few minutes every day - “Let’s just take a quick minute to pause and be grateful. What are you grateful for today?” Then, you eat. It will have effects that outlast the dinner table, I promise you that. Do this consistently and you’ll subconsciously start doing it all the time - you’ll end up with background feelings of gratitude, even while you’re hedonic treadmill keeps moving.

Do it in the morning before you rush out to work, or the evening to slow down after your day. Do it in moments of stress, where things are feeling overwhelming. It just takes 1 minute. Do it alone or do it together, though I highly recommend doing it together - humans belong in groups.

In the spirit of this practice - I’m grateful for you, dear reader. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read these words. I hope they helped you in some way and I wish you luck in all your endeavors.