The ‘attitude of gratitude’ has grown to such prominence in our modern age that it’s easy to brush off the whole concept as a cliché.
But clichés often become so for a reason, and research increasingly shows that practicing gratitude doesn’t just make the world a lovelier, kinder place—gratitude also has an enormous impact on our health.
According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, people who identify themselves as “grateful” experience fewer aches and pains than others, while a series of studies conducted by the leading expert on gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., revealed that gratitude results in a stronger immune system, better sleep, greater joy, even lower blood pressure. (The social benefits are just as fantastic, ranging from happier relationships and enhanced empathy to reduced aggression.) As bestselling author of The Language of Letting Go Melody Beattie says, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
While gratitude shouldn’t be something to merely check off your to-do list this Thanksgiving—rather, it ought to be cultivated all year round—use this holiday as a springboard to start showing gratitude for the people in your life (and to honor National Gratitude Month). Here are 9 meaningful ways to do so:
1. Verbalize your appreciation
In this era of texts, emails, DMs, and SnapChat, it’s all too easy to jot off a quick “TY” for a favor and be on your merry way. But a thank you that is made in person or over the phone—in your voice, and in your own words—will carry far more weight. Your loved one will literally hear the gratitude in your tone.
2. Let it go
Your husband forgot to take out the trash, your assistant showed up five minutes late, your brother canceled plans with you at the last minute, and your server forgot to refill your iced tea. OK, but…is it worth getting mad about? Chastising someone for their errors not only dampens the gratitude you likely have for each other but also tends to lead to a ruined day (or, if persistent, a ruined relationship). If their oversight didn’t cause any real damage, take a deep breath, let it go, and thank them for something else they’ve done well.
3. Anticipate your loved one’s needs
Whether your teenage son has a big test coming up, your sister is awaiting results from a medical test, or your colleague is having car trouble, express your affection for them by anticipating their needs: Pack your son a lunch filled with his favorite foods (and a note articulating your confidence in him), send your sister a plant or book, or offer to pick up your colleague on your way to work before she asks. The point is to consider your loved one’s life from all angles, not just the slant that’s associated with you. There is no better feeling, after all, than knowing that you’re seen, heard, and cared for.
4. Cater to their preferences
You love classical music; he digs old school rap. You love documentaries; she loves romantic comedies. Whatever the case may be, practice gratitude through doing more than compromising: Specifically accommodate their preferences (and without them having to ask for it). Prepare your spouse’s favorite food, take your pal to a movie starring her celebrity crush, or plan a day around your nephew’s favorite activity. Setting aside your own desires to make your partner/friend/family member happy is less an exercise in self-sacrifice than it is good, old-fashioned loving someone else—and a thoughtful way to say thank you for all that you are.
5. Ask questions
…and not of the where have you been/what should we do for dinner/watch tonight variety. Chances are, your most vital relationships—with your romantic partner, say, or your best friend—were built on mutual curiosity in each other’s lives. And yet, after the “honeymoon phase,” interest in each other’s internal landscapes likely faded as reality (and the busyness of life) reasserted itself.
Asking questions, however, is one of the surest and most effective ways to express your fondness and care. Inquire not just about their day but also about deeper truths: Who do you find heroic? What qualities do you admire in others? What reaffirms your faith in humanity? (Hopefully, “gratitude” makes its way into the conversation!)
6. Keep a calendar
Showing gratitude towards others ought to be a long-term endeavor. Meaning, it’s expressing appreciation in the moment, certainly, but it’s also considering things that are important to them (read: in the long run): Their birthday, the day of their first presentation in their new position at work, the morning they’ll run a 10K. Marking down these dates—either in your mind, on your phone, or on the page—and sending them a note on the day of will ensure they know just how grateful you are to have them in your life.
7. Invoke your appreciation even in rough times
Arguments can leave a relationship feeling raw—and render the gratitude you have for your loved one and the bond you share nearly impossible to summon. But recalling what you’re grateful for in the other person isn’t just important in tense moments; it’s downright crucial. If you’re arguing, pause, step away, take a deep breath and remind yourself what you love about them. It may be their easy smile; perhaps it’s their humility, or the grace they show towards others—even if it’s not necessarily you, right now, in this particular context. Then, approach the discussion again with this in mind. Having gratitude for them in your heart will undoubtedly affect how you manage the conflict—and how it’s resolved.
8. …and give thanks for the wisdom you’ve gained
Following an argument—no matter who wins, or if no one wins at all—make a point to express your gratitude for the discussion you had.
Sound corny—or even suspect? Think again: “Take inventory of the good around you,” says author of Contagious Optimism David Mezzapelle, who claims that happiness starts with counting your blessings. “But don’t neglect what’s not great, either: You also need to be grateful for the hardships, the obstacles, the failures. Why? Because these are the points of wisdom in your life. They give you strength, they teach you how to persevere, and they form your resilience. Being thankful for every step makes life’s hardships surmountable.”
9. Have no agenda
You take your mother out for a movie but part ways ten minutes after the credits because a full inbox is awaiting you at home. You have dinner with your spouse but both of you notice the agitation of your tapping foot (it’s a Thursday and you have things to do!) You meet up with a friend for coffee but spend most of it glancing at your phone and pausing the conversation to respond to texts. Yes, we all live full, demanding lives, but there is—to borrow a platitude—no greater gift than your presence. Turn off your phone. Make no deadline on your time together. Listen, engage, savor the magic around you. Your gratitude for them won’t need to be expressed in words; it’ll instead be deeply felt.