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Six Simple Ways to Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

Focus on what's good in your life to get through these trying times

Mom and daughter embrace

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / getty images

En español | Sequestering indoors has tested the resilience and patience of many, but this slowed-down period of unplanned days has also created more opportunity for people to take stock of what they have to be thankful for.

Board-certified health coach Noelle Creamer of Scottsdale, Arizona, has been doing just that; she and her family drop daily gratitude messages into a jar and read them aloud to one another at the end of each week. She also believes that gratitude is an effective way for her clients to combat stress, anxiety and other difficult emotions.

"Small daily rituals make people more grateful by putting things into perspective and helping them focus on things they are thankful for, rather than things they can't control,” Creamer says. “It's very hard to be stressed and grateful at the same time.”

Here, six more simple and reaffirming ways to show appreciation for others and yourself — ideas to fill your days with an attitude of gratitude.

Use your gift to spread joy

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Los Angeles–based photographer Innis Casey made his living documenting humanity's one-of-a-kind moments, such as weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and graduations. But when social distancing measures hit pause on gatherings, he took his talent to his neighbors, asking permission to snap quarantine portraits, or “quartraits” as he calls them, for free. He says he has shot more than 100 since mid-March and has found new joy in time-capsuling this unique moment in history for families such as Michael Bernstein; his wife, Rachel; and their two daughters.

"The immediate memory in looking at the photo is one of sadness and wistfulness for an era that is over,” Michael says. “But as the quarantine has gone on, I think we've come to appreciate that the most important things in life are inside that home with us, and ultimately, we have everything we truly need right there in that picture."

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Get touchy-feely

Hugging friends and family was a lot easier before this health crisis. But James Owen, author of Just Move!: A New Approach to Fitness After 50, and his wife, Stanya, are lucky enough to be sheltering in place together and have made hugging a twice-a-day practice in their Austin, Texas, home.

"Every day before we get out of bed and every night before we fall asleep, we take three to five minutes to hold each other in an embrace and take turns reciting a few things we are personally grateful for,” James says. “As 79-year-olds who are in the most vulnerable position during this pandemic, we have recognized that we have so much to be grateful for, especially our health and the health of our children. Including physical touch to the verbal expression of gratitude has made us appreciate our relationship and companionship even more. After 51 years [of marriage], we are closer than ever."

Write thank-you letters

Platforms such as Zoom and Facebook make connecting a breeze, but Jonathan Tran of San Diego dusted off a set of note cards he had received as a gift last year and wrote to his family in Racine, Wisconsin.

Thank you note

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The Art of Saying Thanks — in Writing

In 2016, the year of her 50th birthday, author Nancy Davis Kho wrote 50 thank-you letters to people who had helped, shaped or inspired her. Her gratitude journey is documented in her 2019 book, The Thank-You Project. We asked her to share some of her best advice for writing therapeutic thank-you notes.

Whom to write to?

“Start with a list of people who have helped, shaped or inspired you in a positive way. I started with family and close friends. My first two letters were to my parents, then in their 80s. Later in my project, as I honed my ‘gratitude muscle,’ I was able to find gratitude for even the negative relationships.”

What to say?

“Pick a person to think about for a week. How have they helped/shaped/changed you specifically? How are you a different person because you know them? What kind of problem would you call this person to help you with? Then start writing.”

Tip: Keep a copy

“I typed my letters on the computer, so it was easy to keep a copy of each. I bound all those letters together at the end of the project, and it’s something I return to again and again as a reminder of all the various ways I’ve been held up and supported in my life.”

"They are not blood relatives but took in my mother, her six siblings and her parents when they fled Vietnam during the war. I thought about how grateful I was to have this extended family who love us as their own,” Tran says. “A text message is such little effort. The act of giving my time to write a heartfelt message on a card, signing it with love and spending days hoping they received my message of gratitude is so much more impactful."

Serve positivity for dinner

Each night at the dinner table, Portland, Oregon–based writer Jessica Spiegel, her boyfriend and his daughter share three positive things about their day. They started this practice six years ago, and the ritual, says Spiegel, has not only sparked conversations they might not have had but also has made them feel more optimistic during the monotonous quarantine days.

"Our dinnertime ritual has remained a constant for so many years now that it's hard to pinpoint what impact it has had during this whole quarantine, except that it would be very easy to go down the negative rabbit hole and forget anything good is happening at all if we didn't still go through the routine,” she says.

Start a daily meditation habit

According to Lynne Goldberg, one of the country's leading meditation teachers and the founder of the meditation app Breethe, consistent daily meditation has numerous and profound effects on mental and physical well-being.

"One of the techniques we teach is how to stay present, rather than get swept away by anxious thoughts about the future. There is so much uncertainty right now, and none of us can predict what will happen,” she says. “But, what we do know, and what we can learn to consider, is that at this moment right now, there is a lot more that is OK with us than there is wrong."

Keep track of the little things

There are countless ways to kick-start your daily gratitude attitude, including writing in a journal, sneaking notes into your spouse's sock drawer and texting photos of the flowers in the garden to your children and grandchildren. Or do as Elizabeth Rees of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, does and keep tabs on your daily gifts on the Oh So Grateful chart, a daily tracker she keeps in her infant daughter's bedroom.

"At first, it was actually a bit hard to remember to do it, or sometimes I would feel overwhelmed by what to write, but now we are in a groove and it feels great,” Rees says. My daughter is still little and doesn't understand yet, but I know that my mood and energy directly affects my patience, my creativity and my ability to be a good role model for her."

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