Whilst we don’t celebrate this American tradition in Australia, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for other ways to express gratitude. The benefits of gratitude have been written about in almost every religious and philosophical tradition throughout the ages, and now positive psychology research is contributing a wealth of science to help us understand how and why gratitude is so important to our well-being. People who experience feelings of gratitude have been shown to have fewer stress related illnesses, better physical health and more satisfying relationships, amongst other things.

As with many other components of happiness, gratitude can be cultivated within all of us, regardless of our circumstances. We just need to practice looking for reasons to be grateful, and then getter better at truly and deeply experiencing and expressing feelings of gratitude.

Many readers would be familiar with the ‘3 good things’ exercise – each night, reflect on 3 good things that happened that day for which you can feel grateful. Repeating this activity daily for just 3 weeks can increase feelings of happiness and well-being. But I’ve known people to run out of ideas or get bored with the activity, so here’s a few suggestions of how to vary your daily ‘3 good things’ exercise so it has the most impact. Perhaps try a different one each day of the week:

Reflect on and identify:

  • 3 of your strengths, talents or characteristics that you’re grateful for
  • 3 gifts, compliments or kindnesses you’ve received
  • 3 pleasant surprises or unexpected events that have occurred
  • 3 positive circumstances of your life
  • 3 things you take for granted
  • 3 future events, circumstances or changes you’re anticipating
  • 3 people who are important in your life
  • 3 events, people, circumstances, possessions or achievements, without which your life would be less satisfying or meaningful.

Whilst it’s important to cultivate gratitude through daily exercise, like anything, if the activity becomes too routine it can lose impact. So try varying how you practice experiencing and expressing gratitude. Different methods include:

  • Set time aside to privately think about the things you’re grateful for
  • Write about things you’re grateful for in a journal or diary
  • Express your gratitude directly to the person to whom you’re grateful, either in person or via a letter, card, phone call or taped message
  • Make a regular time with family, friends or work colleagues to share what you’re grateful for
  • Create a gratitude wall at work
  • Keep a scrapbook, photo album or electronic file of things you’re grateful for
  • Create poetry, music or art to reflect or express your gratitude
  • Hang out with people who are grateful
  • Use a smart phone to record gratitude in the moment – there’s a range of Apps that prompt you to notice and record gratitude, check out the free App Gratitude Tree for example.

So often we feel dissatisfied, depressed or hopeless because it’s too easy to focus on the things we don’t have, can’t do or won’t be. We get consumed by this negativity, and fail to notice what’s going right. Cultivating gratitude is such a simple way to lift feelings of depression, improve our relationships and increase our health and wellbeing. And it doesn’t depend on our circumstances. Even people experiencing traumatic or tragic events have found opportunities to experience gratitude, which has helped with their recovery. Every moment of every day presents an opportunity to cultivate gratitude – be attuned to these opportunities and then take in, absorb and whole-heartedly experience the feeling of gratitude when it arises.