Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Here’s why giving thanks all year matters.

Posted November 15, 2023 |  Reviewed by Davia Sills


  • The concept of gratitude has value beyond one day or one month during the year.
  • Research suggests gratitude can help people feel more positive emotions, cope with adversity, and more.
  • Gratitude also means embracing the idea of giving thanks even when it’s hard.

Each year, as Thanksgiving approaches, we hear a lot about gratitude – expressing thankfulness for the food we will eat, our loved ones, and our health. Our holiday rituals may have become routine and may even seem rote or superficial—especially against a backdrop of wars and distress in some parts of the world. The real history of Thanksgiving may also affect how we feel about this tradition.

Yet the concept of gratitude has value beyond one day or one month during the year. The holiday gives us the opportunity to think about gratitude as a mindset and a practice—a form of self-care. When we are genuinely grateful, we are recognizing and acknowledging what we have instead of what we lack and demonstrating appreciation for all the good in our lives. Think of gratitude as a wellness practice that builds our resilience.

Research on gratitude suggests it can make us feel more positive emotions, help us cope with adversity, and even improve our health and relationships. In one study, people who wrote a few sentences each week about things they were grateful for were more optimistic and had fewer doctor visits after 10 weeks than those who wrote about daily irritations. Another study found that participants who wrote and delivered letters of gratitude to people who had been kind to them reported greater happiness. The benefits of these gratitude letters lasted a month.

Let me be clear: By gratitude, I don’t mean being thankful for what you’ve rightfully earned. Black people are often told we should appreciate the fact that we have an opportunity or job even if we don’t feel valued or respected by peers or managers. We don’t have to accept mistreatment or be happy just to have a seat at the table.

So, what does it mean to cultivate a genuine sense of gratitude? It could take the form of simple rituals like saying grace before meals but does not have to center around food as Thanksgiving does. Those of us who pray or meditate regularly are practicing gratitude and know the benefits. I suggest that gratitude also means embracing the idea of giving thanks even when it’s hard.

Your Gratitude Practice

Consider these ways to regularly cultivate gratitude in your life.

  1. Write about it.

The act of writing slows us down and allows us to be more intentional about our gratitude. To memorialize what you are thankful for, you can try a succinct description in the form of a six-word memoir. In just six words, describe an experience or person you are grateful for. For example, “Hugs, love, warmth: thankful for family.” Now, grab your journal and see what you come up with.

  1. Compose a thank-you note.

You can write a thank you to someone who has done you a kindness. In this era of electronic texts and emails, taking the time to put pen to paper can be rewarding for both you and the recipient. If you’re not sure what to say, try completing one or more of these sentence stems below that acknowledge specific behavior and its impact.

I’m so happy that you ___________ (person’s specific action)

I appreciate that you _____________ (specific action)

Thank you for _____________ (specific action)

You helped me ______________ (how their action supported you)

  1. Make it a habit.

There are dozens of free gratitude apps you can download on your phone to help make your gratitude practice easy to remember and engage in regularly. Some apps encourage making quick lists of things you are thankful for, some offer affirmations, and still others offer opportunities for deeper reflection through less structured writing. Some apps even incorporate spirituality and faith.

Try one or two of them to see what suits you. If an app isn’t your style, pick up a decorative gratitude journal from a stationary store.

  1. Notice the natural world.

Take a walk in your neighborhood or visit your favorite nature spot and use your senses to notice the wonders around you. If you are in a park, for example, tune into what you see, smell, hear, and feel. What colors do you see in the leaves? What fragrance is in the air? Can you hear birds chirping or water running? Does the air feel cool or crisp? Do you feel the warmth of the sun? Try to zero in on what you appreciate about your natural surroundings.

  1. Create a gratitude jar.

You can do this with any container, like a Mason jar, small bowl, or box. You can decorate it with a colorful label or ribbon or just keep it simple. On a slip of paper or post-it note, jot down what you are grateful for in a few words or even with a doodle or drawing. Examples might include “Unexpected call from an old friend,” “My helpful neighbor or coworker,” or “A beautiful sunset.” It can be anything that makes you feel good.

Drop the paper in the jar and repeat daily, weekly or monthly. When the jar fills up or when you’re simply having a rough day, remove a few slips of paper and read them to remind yourself of all the good things you’ve experienced.