7 Tips to Cultivate Gratitude

a woman blowing snow
Cultivating a feeling of gratitude can boost well-being, and it turns out, feeling thankful is pretty simple. (Image credit: Fonfred | Shutterstock)

Feeling Thankful

world gratitude map

To post your thankful note to the World Gratitude Map (shown here), email gratitude@myresilience.net or send a tweet with the hashtag #gratmap. (Image credit: Google Maps)

Feeling grateful makes people feel good: That's not just intuition, it's science.

Research also shows it's possible to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. One of the creators of the World Gratitude Map, Jacqueline Lewis, shares some tips on how to feel more grateful, and happier, in your New Year.

Once you find your sources of gratitude, you can post them to the web-based Map, which helps people around the world record and share the things for which they feel grateful.

Slow down and take notice

happy woman

Wanna be happy? As long as you have money, optimism is one sure bet, research suggests. (Image credit: © Martin Novak | Dreamstime.com)

Pick three good things that you see or experience during the day, then write them down or post them on the World Gratitude Map. You can also throw a quarter or a dollar in a jar. When it's filled, treat yourself, or better yet, someone else, Lewis suggests.

Feel your feelings

lonely boy

Social isolation during critical years of maturation can wreak havoc on the brain, scientists report in the Sept. 13, 2012, issue of the journal Science. (Image credit: Suzanne Tucker | Shutterstock)

If you miss someone, don't try to escape the feeling; instead use it to feel thankful. When missing her mom, who passed away in 2011, Lewis remembered how her mother used to re-arrange the furniture when she was stressed. So, to thanks her mother, Lewis re-arranged her own furniture. "You are not going to avoid the loss and the sadness, but you can take control of it," Lewis said.

Build in ways to help others

Volunteers from BookCycle loads a box into the container that is taking donated book to Ghana on March 9, 2012 in Exeter.

Volunteers from BookCycle loads a box into the container that is taking donated book to Ghana on March 9, 2012 in Exeter. (Image credit: Clive Chilvers | Shutterstock)

For example, Lewis recalls throwing a party and asking that, in lieu of gifts, guests bring gift cards to donate to a local shelter. Science has shown those people who buy gifts for friends or give charitable donations experience a happiness boost not seen in individuals who spend on themselves. That study was published in 2008 in the journal Science. [7 Things That Will Make You Happy]

Say thank you

Young couple at Golden Gate Bridge.

A Gallup poll has found that happiness with your home city goes hand-in-hand with health. (Image credit: Maridav, Shutterstock)

Take time to thank someone every day, anything from a card to an email or a hand on the shoulder will do. Connecting with others this way will help you get outside of your own head, Lewis said. Research that came out in May revealed a simple "thank you" may boost relationship satisfaction. The undergraduates in the study, detailed in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reported feeling more appreciative of their partners the day after they themselves felt more appreciated. Those who felt appreciated were also less likely to break up in the following nine months, saying they felt even more committed to each other at that time.

Find ways to connect with loved ones

Sisters on laptop on sofa.

Sisters on laptop on sofa. (Image credit: gorillaimages | Shutterstock)

Around Easter one year, when Lewis' mother was dying, Lewis said she brought friends and family together in spirit, or at least costume, by asking everyone to send photos of themselves wearing bunny ears for "Bunnyfest." Another example: Lewis said her sister and a remote friend have used Skype to cook together.

Be creative with nostalgia

Old photo album with family photos.

Old photo album with family photos. (Image credit: KC Slagle | Shutterstock)

Make a whimsical photo album to enjoy. Include silly pictures of yourself or friends, and take a look back at it every so often. Turns out, nostalgia really can warm the heart: Research has found a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past can warm up the body. In addition, looking at the past in a rosy light, such as with silly photo journeys, can really boost happiness. This phenomenon may explain why extroverts are happier than other personality types, according to a study published in 2011 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Notice what you have

(Image credit: Ross Toro, LiveScience Contributor)

One Christmas, Lewis received a gift that made her cringe: a bright-yellow ski suit. When she opened it, she envisioned herself as a big lemon, tumbling down a slope. Her husband at the time, who had given it to her, tried to explain: "It's the yellow snowsuit." Then she realized he was referring to a story she'd told him about the moment she felt most loved and safe, when her mother was zipping her into a yellow snowsuit as a young child. Her then-husband had wanted to replicate that moment for her. The lesson: "We have an idea of what the holidays should look like, what we are entitled to, what love looks like, what happiness looks like, and then we are measuring our life against this idealistic version of what we should have," she said. "That is what stands in the way of noticing what we have."

Wynne Parry
Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.