The Benefits of Gratitude Rituals and How to Add Them to Your Day |

The Benefits of Gratitude Rituals and How to Add Them to Your Day

The night before my father died, I sat down with my journal, as I had been doing almost every night for as long as I could remember, and I had no idea where to start. I had spent over twelve hours at the hospital that day. The chemotherapy he’d been on to treat his pancreatic cancer had, while extending his life and giving us more time to soak up together, also ravaged his body. The morning had started with him having a small heart attack, setting off a cascade of other events. He had maintained his sense of humor and been lucid most of the day, but as night fell, he had another episode. 

When I kissed his cheek goodbye around 10 p.m. and we exchanged “I love you”s, I could tell by his clammy skin and weak voice that this was possibly the last time we would speak. I’d taken a mental snapshot of that moment and carried it with me the whole cab ride home. I still carry it. 

I didn’t know yet that I would be the only one out of our little family to have a moment like that. Later, my mother and sister would tell me that everything that unfolded the next day happened so fast, they didn’t get that chance. As I share in my book, The Farewell Tour, we were all still in survival mode up until the last second. 

So what the hell was I going to write? Over the past few years, my nightly gratitude journaling practice had lifted me out of some really dark stuff, but this was dark on a whole other level. I thought about not writing anything at all, maybe just tossing back a bourbon (this was back when I still drank alcohol on the regular) and trying to sleep for a few hours, but I knew that if that’s how I was feeling, I probably needed that gratitude practice more than ever. So I thought about when I had smiled that day. 

I flashed immediately to a moment that morning when about 20 medical team members entered my dad’s room to ask him questions and assess his heart function—he’d let them know that I was, we’ll say, available. I was 32 and in a complicated and negative relationship. My dad wanted better for me than I was allowing myself in the romance department. I was crying but also started to laugh as I wrote down the conversation I had with my dad when they’d all left the room. “Did you really have to let the rapid response team know that I was single, Dad?” I would miss his trademark mischievous grin. “How could I be in a room full of hot doctors and not mention it?” 

I wrote down a few other things from that day, little moments I was thankful for, specks of blue sky between the clouds. As I eventually climbed into bed, I knew that even though the next day would be even harder, I could face it. While it wouldn’t directly change what was happening to my dad, this tiny gratitude ritual did help me feel more resilient and able to show up for my family. 

By the way, you don’t need to be in crisis to benefit from gratitude rituals. Here’s a brief intro to what gratitude actually is, what the benefits are, and how to work it into your everyday life.

Woman Journaling On Yoga Mat

Okay, So What Exactly Is Gratitude, And Why Is It Important?

Many of us were raised to say thank you, which, yes, is an expression of gratitude, but it runs deeper than that. Gratitude can be understood as acknowledging and affirming the positive things in your life; taking a moment to appreciate the good. 

Personal growth expert, hit podcast host, and author of 100 Ways To Change Your Life, Liz Moody says, “Gratitude practices have a myriad of health and life benefits, including improving our happiness, sense of resilience, and relationships.” 

Licensed Professional Counselor, Jennifer A. Gray, explains, “Gratitude isn’t about forcing fluffy, feel-good emotions. Think of gratitude as a muscle you build by acknowledging the favorable elements of life, big or small. Practicing gratitude allows you to recognize struggles in life without getting stuck in them because your perspective becomes balanced between what feels good and what causes discomfort.” She adds that practicing gratitude in your own life benefits others too. “It creates a ripple effect, spreading positivity and inspiring appreciation in the people around you.”

Holistic Business and Career Coach Amina AlTai says, “According to research, gratitude is one of the easiest and most beneficial tools for boosting happiness levels on a neurological and emotional level. Not only does it support higher levels of positive emotions, but it reportedly makes us more helpful, generous, and compassionate.” She cites Dr. Robert Emmons’— the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and professor of psychology at UC Davis— research, which states that people are 28% less stressed when they keep gratitude journals. “According to Emmons’ research, “she adds, “those who engage in a regular gratitude practice, can benefit from lower blood pressure, better sleep, healthier immune function, and even greater resiliency.”

AlTai points out that gratitude can also benefit our careers by allowing us to recover more quickly from setbacks, contributing to stronger self-worth, and keeping us in the present moment “so we can take in what is working for us right now, versus future tripping. It supports us in experiencing and understanding the true value and benefits of something instead of looking towards the next goal post.”

What Is a Gratitude Ritual? 

A gratitude ritual is a practice through which you tap into gratitude. There are so many different types of gratitude rituals to try. I shared journaling as a practice that’s a part of my life, but there are lots of other things you can try. 

Moody says, “I’m a huge fan of doing things to lean into my community since the world’s longest human study shows that our relationships are the single biggest key to living our longest, happiest lives. Two of my friends and I have a group chat where we text each other 3 things we’re grateful for at the end of every day.” 

If you’re a visual person, you might like Gray’s suggestion. “Get a brand new stack of your favorite color post-it notes. Write down something you are grateful for, big or small, on each paper. Stick them everywhere around your home, car, office, inside cabinets, under books, on top of laptops, on mirrors; you get it. Surround yourself with these tiny love notes reminding you of life’s beauty.”

Additional Gratitude Rituals to Try:

  • List 3-5 things you’re grateful for in a journal, in a Word doc, or in a note on your phone. These can be big things or little things. You can try it first thing in the morning or at any point when it makes sense to pause and appreciate the good stuff. When you need to, review your list. 
  • When you’re having a challenging day and need to shift back into a positive mindset, take a moment to breathe and mentally note at least one thing you are grateful for.
  • Keep a little gratitude jar or box. When you feel grateful, jot down whatever it is on a slip of paper and add it to the jar or container. At the end of the month, pull out and read all the things you’re grateful for. 
  • Start a group text chat or email thread with a few friends who want to make gratitude a part of their life. Each day share one or a few things you’re grateful for with each other. 
  • Before a meal, take a moment to look at the food in front of you. Take in the colors, sights, and smells, and note what you appreciate about what you’re about to eat.
  • Make a playlist of uplifting songs that make you smile and dance and make a habit of playing it when you need a boost.
  • Each day, share with a friend or family member something you’re grateful for from the day. 
  • Every week, make a list of 10 things you’re grateful for.
  • Write a letter to someone who has impacted your life in a positive way 
Jar Filled With Gratitude Notes

How Do You Get Started With a Gratitude Ritual? 

Want to start a gratitude ritual but feeling overwhelmed? You can start with tiny steps. 

Make the ritual a part of your morning routine.

Spiritual teacher and bestselling author Gabby Bernstein loves making gratitude part of her morning routine. “When you bring your focus in the morning to an energy of gratitude, an energy of appreciation, an energy of what is thriving in your life, you instantly redirect your focus off of all the fears, dramas, and things that are not working, and you shift your focus onto what feels great.” She adds, though, that you don’t have to be committing to 40 minutes of gratitude first thing in order for it to “count.” She recommends a brief, relaxed gratitude meditation in the morning. 

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Link your gratitude ritual to something you already do habitually.

Gray recommends linking your gratitude practice to something you already do every day. “Always refilling your coffee cup throughout the day? Name something you are grateful for each time. Does your cat crawl across your laptop a lot? Intentionally name something you are thankful for with each feline interruption. Build the muscle, whether it feels necessary or not.” You can do this while you’re brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, getting into or out of bed, or anything else you do as a regular part of your day.  

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Make yourself accountable.

If you feel like you have a lot of different things competing for your attention, accountability can make a difference. Moody says, “Do [your gratitude practice] with someone else! Agreeing to do something with friends is a great commitment device because the penalty of disappointing other people can be incredibly motivating. Also, you’re building relationships by cultivating gratitude.”

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Gratitude has been shown to have big benefits to our mental and physical well-being and can even play a role in helping us be successful and fulfilled in our professional lives. A daily gratitude ritual can help you cultivate feelings of gratitude on a regular basis. If you’re not sure how to get started, begin with small practices you can tack on to everyday activities and consider getting friends involved. 

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