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How to Practice Gratitude – 12 Gratitude Exercises for Increased Joy

how to practice gratitude

Notice and reflect on the many blessings in your life.

November–the month in which Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States–always makes me reflect on the transformative powers of gratitude. There are countless studies which show that feeling and expressing gratitude improves mental, physical, and relational wellbeing.

Some time ago I wrote a post on the life-changing benefits of gratitude. These benefits include the following:

  • Increased happiness;
  • Better sleep;
  • Strengthened resilience:
  • Improved health; and
  • Enhanced peace of mind.

I’ve illustrated these in the infographic below:

how to practice gratitude

With so many benefits that come with the feeling of gratitude, why don’t people engage in this emotion more often? I think that it’s because we have a tendency to focus on what is going wrong, and on what we lack.

Instead, we should be paying more attention to what is going right and to everything we have. To help you bring more gratitude into your life, I’ve collected–and created–a few gratitude exercises which I’m going to share with you in this post.

Below you’ll find 12 gratitude exercises for increased joy which you can go through the next time you’re wondering how to practice gratitude.

1. If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

“If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young” is a 2013 collection of nine commencement speeches from the beloved American writer Kurt Vonnegut. Here’s a quote from one of these commencement speeches:

“My Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now, one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Gratitude isn’t about feeling thankful each time you get something more. It’s about pausing, looking around, and taking in what’s already there. Take Vonnegut’s advice and make sure to appreciate the simple, sweet moments that life offers.

2. Think of a Near Miss.

One day, while I was living in Washington, D.C., I walked into a furniture store looking for an item for my apartment. I was told by a salesclerk that I could find the item I needed on the basement floor. As I was walking down the stairs, suddenly and inexplicably, I stopped.

At that moment, a store employee who was standing on the floor above accidentally pushed over a large box with a heavy piece of furniture in it. It landed right in front of me. If I hadn’t stopped when I did, the box would have landed on me. It would have either killed me, or at the very least I would have been severely injured.

I don’t know what saved me that day (intuition, luck, a guardian angel. . .), but I’m grateful that it did. I think a lot of people have their own near-miss stories. What’s yours? Aren’t you relieved it was a near-miss? Take a moment to feel gratitude that it was just a close call.

3. Use Gratitude Prompts.

One of the most useful gratitude exercises that I’ve come across is creating an inventory of 100 things you’re grateful for. I have a post with 100 gratitude prompts that you can use to trigger ideas for your list, including the following:

  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I see:
  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I hear:
  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I smell:
  • Im grateful for these 3 things I touch/feel:
  • I’m grateful for these 3 things I love to eat:

You can find all of the prompts here: 100 gratitude prompts.

4. Turn a Negative Into a Positive.

One of the exercises that I include in my post, 22 Gratitude Exercises that Will Change Your Life, is to put things in perspective. One way to do this is to try to see things through a lens of gratitude.

After all, gratitude can help you turn negatives into positives. At least once a day, try turning a negative into a positive by asking yourself questions like the following:

  • Is there a silver lining to this?
  • Is there a better way to look at this?
  • What can I be thankful about in this situation?

Here’s an example from my own life: About three weeks ago, in close succession, my laptop’s battery died; the screen started freezing sporadically; the keyboard began scrolling down by itself; and my external speakers stopped working. It was almost like they had a team meeting and decided to retire, en masse.

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. However, I went on Amazon, and I was able to find replacements for everything that had stopped working at a reasonable price. When the stuff I ordered from Amazon arrived, I went to a computer store that’s close to where I live, and they installed everything in half-an-hour. Plus, everyone at the computer store was friendly to me.

I felt very grateful that everything could be fixed, and my computer is now working like new again.

5. Keep A Gratitude Journal.

Keeping a gratitude journal is an oldie but goodie. Every night, take a moment before you go to sleep to review the day and give thanks for all the good that came your way. Both the big and the small.

I’ve created the template below which you can use for your gratitude journal. You can download the template by inserting your name and email below:

how to practice gratitude

If you’re looking for gratitude quotes to write down at the bottom of the template here are 89 of them:

6. Think of All the Things You Take for Granted.

A while back I was watching one of the late-night talk shows—I don’t remember which one—and the celebrity that was being interviewed was talking about how fast we become accustomed to new benefits, and how quickly we start taking things for granted.

He explained that he was on a plane, when the pilot announced over the loudspeaker that the airline had started offering inflight Wi-Fi. Everyone was pleasantly surprised, and some people even started clapping. About half-an hour-later, the internet signal fell. You could immediately hear the groans and complaints from the passengers.

Something that had been unexpected boon just a few minutes before, had become standard in just half-an-hour, and people were upset that it had been taken away. In a very short amount of time, the passengers on the plane felt that they were entitled to WiFi during their flight.

Stop to think of all the things which make your life infinitely better, but which you simply take for granted, or feel entitled to. Here are ten of them:

how to practice gratitude

Now stop to think for a moment how lucky you are to have these things. There are many parts of the world where people don’t have access to many of the things that are simply a matter of course for you.

Eight Hours to Get Drinking Water

As an illustration, it takes Aysha—a girl in Ethiopia—eight hours a day to gather water for her family. If you really want to feel grateful the next time you simply have to walk over to your faucet and open it to get clean water, watch this video of Aysha’s daily trek through the desert in order to collect this vital liquid.

7. Gratitude Cards

At the beginning of each day, grab an index card and write at the top: “Things I’m grateful for today.” Put it in you wallet and fill it out throughout the day.

You can ask your family members to do the same. Then, at dinnertime, each family member can share with everyone else what they wrote down on their cards.

8. Show Yourself Some Gratitude.

There’s a little gratitude game that I play with myself, that involves my past-self, my present-self, and my future-self.

When my present-self benefits from something that my past-self did, I take a moment to thank my past-self. For example, if I’m hungry and I open my refrigerator door to find a delicious meal that I cooked the day before, I take a moment to thank my past-self for preparing the meal.

On the other hand, when I do something to achieve one of my goals, I visualize my future-self thanking my present-self.

For example, if I go to gym to exercise, I’m working toward my fitness goals. When I’m done, I think of the future version of myself who will have achieved those goals, and that version of me thanks my present-self for doing what was necessary for her to get there.

A little gratitude time travel, if you will. 🙂

9. Gratitude Questions.

The fifth item on this list was to keep a gratitude journal. I already gave you a template to help you with that, and now I’m going to go one step further. I’m going to give you 55 gratitude questions to help spark ideas on what to write in your gratitude journal.

Here are the first five:

  1. What was the best part of the day?
  2. Who helped me today?
  3. Who was kind to me today?
  4. What made me laugh outloud today?
  5. What insight did I gain today?

You can get all of the questions here: 55 gratitude Questions – Count Your Daily Blessings.

10. Remember a Teacher Who Believed In You.

At the very top of this post I shared with you an exercise taken from the collection of Vonnegut’s commencement addresses, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young”. Here’s another one:

“That’s one favor I’ve asked of you. Now I ask for another one. I ask it not only of the graduates, but of everyone here, parents and teachers as well. I’ll want a show of hands after I ask this question.

How many of you have had a teacher at any level of your education who made you more excited to be alive, prouder to be alive, than you had previously believed possible?

Hold up your hands, please.

Now take down your hands and say the name of that teacher to someone else and tell them what that teacher did for you.”

We’ve all had that one special teacher who helped us become the person we are today. Think of them and what they did for you. Now, tell someone else.

11. Go On a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt.

I’m sure you’re familiar with scavenger hunts, but in case you’re not, it’s a game in which you take a list of items, and then the game participants proceed to search for the items. When each player finds an item, they can do any of the following:

  • Collect the item.
  • Check the item off the list.
  • Take a photo of the item.

Here’s a list of items you can use for your Gratitude Scavenger Hunt:

  • Find something you love to smell.
  • Go to the grocery store and pick out a fruit you love.
  • Find something that’s really useful for you.
  • Find something in your favorite color.
  • Find something you love to touch.
  • Find a sound you love.
  • Find something that reminds you of someone you love.
  • Find something that says “home” to you.
  • Find your favorite book.
  • Find a beautiful tree you can sit under.
  • Find a Siberian husky (or a dog of a breed that makes you smile).
  • Find a store clerk or government employee who does their job well,
  • Find a place with a great view of your city.
  • Find something that fills you with pride for your country.
  • Find a board game you love to play.
  • Find your favorite flower.
  • Find something that makes you laugh.
  • Find something that reminds you of something you’ve accomplished.
  • Find something that keeps you healthy.
  • Find something you’ve made with your own hands.
  • Find something you treasure that money can’t buy.
  • Find a gratitude quote you love.
  • Find a gift you received recently.
  • Find something you use when you need some self-care.
  • Find something that fills you with wonder.

12. A 2-Minute Morning Exercise to Boost Your Gratitude and Happiness

Most people are constanty looking for ways for start their morning right. After all, the way you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. You can start the day filled with gratitude by taking two minutes to say a few gratitude affirmations.

Here are three you can try:

  • Thank you for this new day.
  • I’m filled with happiness and gratitude.
  • I’m grateful for a new chance to live my life.

You can see ten morning affirmations here: 8 Ways to Practice Gratitude to Boost Your Wellbeing.


Gratitude allows us to shift our attention from what we lack to the abundance that is already present in our lives. It allows us to appreciate all the good that we have. Use these 12 exercises to help you bring more gratitude into your life this November, and every month of the year.

Live your best life by discovering how to practice gratitude.


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