Gratitude is like broccoli: Most of us know that it’s good for us, but to experience the benefits we have to take action. Broccoli won’t make you healthier unless you eat it, and gratitude won’t make you happier, less stressed, and more resilient— just a few of the scientifically proven benefits— unless you practice it.
I was slow to try gratitude. I read books and scientific papers about the benefits for years before trying it. To be honest, I just didn’t think that something as simple as pausing to appreciate the small, good moments in my day would make any significant difference in how I felt.
But I was desperate to feel better, less overwhelmed, and more in agreement with my life rather than constantly feeling like I was fighting it, so I reluctantly began a gratitude experiment: I committed to myself that I would practice gratitude for 30 days in a row.
In just a few weeks, I noticed a difference: I was feeling happier as I began to appreciate and experience the small moments of joy, warmth, and beauty in my day. I didn’t have to work harder or change myself or my life, I simply had to practice being grateful for the small moments of goodness that were already there. I felt more joy and less stress, and these feelings were increasing by the day. I was hooked.
For the past six years I’ve dedicated my life to helping people make gratitude a regular daily practice — to eat their gratitude broccoli, if you will. And I’m excited to share with you three of my favorite ways to infuse gratitude into your everyday. I encourage you to give each one a try and see which ones resonate the most.
1. Bookend your days with gratitude
Begin and end the day by thinking about a few things you’re grateful for. It’s important to capture them somehow — jot them down, take a photo, share them with someone — and be as specific as possible. What you’re grateful for can be really small, like the warmth of the sun on your face, a kind text from a friend, or someone holding the door for you at work. Research shows that frequent positive experiences make us happier than any huge events, so small things really do count.
By beginning your morning with gratitude, you’re priming yourself for the best day possible while also boosting your resilience to help you face whatever challenges come your way.
And when you end the day with gratitude, you help to reverse your brain’s natural negativity bias, the tendency it has to focus more on the negative than the positive. Your brain is really good at focusing on what went wrong during your day, but when you practice gratitude you help it to remember what went right and boost your overall feelings of well-being.
2. Pause for a thank you
When you say “thank you” to someone, pause, look them in the eye, and put heart into it. Express your gratitude with intention through this simple gesture and you’ll be surprised how good you and the recipient feel.
It’s easy to rush through your thank you’s, to say them in half-breath, in passing. We do this with strangers — while getting coffee, for example — and with our friends, families, and colleagues. Instead, infuse your genuine gratitude into your thank you and say it like you mean it.
For extra credit, tell the other person what you are specifically thanking them for. Research shows that expressing gratitude to others helps strengthen our relationships because we begin to view those relationships as supportive and nurturing.
3. Imagine life without this
When something stresses you out, pause and consider, just for a moment, what your life would be like without it.
Especially at times when I find myself caught up in thinking about how something is not quite right — flight is delayed, garage door is broken, someone in my family is driving me nuts — I remind myself to pause and think, Imagine life without this.
It doesn’t mean you don’t wish that something — or someone — were better, but this simple exercise will help you feel a sense of gratitude for the many amazing comforts, conveniences, and people that make your life possible, even when they aren’t being perfect (or rather, how you wish they were.)
Our brains are extremely adaptable and it’s easy to take the many blessings that are part of our lives for granted. Thinking about not having them is a wonderful reminder, especially in those moments when you’re lost in frustration.
Practicing gratitude is one of the easiest and best investments you can make to support your emotional health. I hope you’ll make a commitment to make it a daily practice.
For more gratitude practice, access two free video practices here.
Nataly Kogan is an entrepreneur and speaker, and founder and CEO of Happier — a global learning platform that has helped more than one million people live happier lives. Kogan has been featured in hundreds of media outlets including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TEDx Boston, SXSW, and The Dr. Oz Show.