Our mindset—how we perceive ourselves and the world around us—impacts our thoughts and actions. And in a world of both endless opportunities and challenges, holding the right mindset is of utmost importance.
Cultivating a mindset of gratitude can transform how we think about our resources, relationships, and time.
But it begs the question: Can we be truly grateful under any circumstance? The latest headlines, social media feeds, and even our own situations may not bring up feelings of gratitude. At least, not at first. Cultivating gratitude takes time, patience, and acknowledging our current needs.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the ability to recognize what is going well and to appreciate what we have, no matter how large or small.
A gratitude mindset allows us to cherish what we have, both physical and intangible, and can look quite different from person to person. We can be grateful, regardless of our circumstances.
Characteristics of gratitude include a greater appreciation for the small, the ability to reframe negative circumstances, and an emphasis on life experiences. People who practice gratitude also tend to be more open and flexible with their time and resources.
However, it’s vital to remember gratitude does not discount hardship, loss, or grief but instead makes space for us to process our circumstances. Only then can we reframe or shift our perspective. Gratitude does not deny our varying day-to-day realities.
Building gratitude also has long-term implications for our health and wellbeing. You may be familiar with “the power of positive thinking.” Rather than a trite platitude, this phrase holds considerable weight. Cultivating a regular practice of gratitude contributes to improved mental and physical health, longevity, and resilience.
How a Negativity Bias Gets in the Way
When you’re thinking about how to put food on the table or where to find a new job, gratitude may be the furthest thing from your mind. And that makes sense. Simply reframing or shifting your perspective does not meet tangible needs. Gratitude does not solve all the problems we may face.
But at the same time, we need gratitude most in these moments. Over time, and with practice, gratitude can be the difference that helps you endure the most difficult challenges.
To begin growing a gratitude mindset, we must recognize and name what is real. To acknowledge our pain, our heartbreak, and our struggles. Gratitude does not ask us to pretend they don’t exist but to see them for what they are and intentionally seek a different response.
And if it feels like a monumental challenge to begin to move toward gratitude, you’re not alone. We all have what’s called our brain’s “negativity bias.” Studies tell us that our brains react more strongly to negative experiences, and the more we dwell on them, the more it becomes a habit. But, like any habit, we can develop a gratitude mindset with practice and patience.
The Difference Between Feeling and Being Grateful
It’s much easier to practice gratitude when things are going well. Throughout our lives, there will be moments of abundance and joy and moments that are quite the opposite. Yet gratitude can remain constant throughout. How? By distinguishing between feeling and being grateful.
Feelings are temporary and come and go in passing moments. On the other hand, being is a lasting state or outlook we can develop. When gratitude becomes part of who we are, it can exist alongside all our emotions, from grief and anger to joy and excitement. As those feelings come and go, gratitude remains.
4 Ways to Cultivate a Mindset of Gratitude
Victor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, learned the power of one’s mindset while living in a concentration camp. He wrote, “the one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
Gratitude is a muscle we must build. As Frankl reminds us, no one gets to dictate how we respond. And, we can impact our physical, mental, and emotional health when we respond with gratitude. It is not easy, but it can be transformative.
As you begin to practice gratitude, be gracious with yourself. It can take time, and it’s not always a linear process. But the more you persist, the easier it becomes to challenge your way of thinking. Follow along for some of our top suggestions to cultivate a gratitude mindset.
#1. Start a Daily Gratitude Journal
Every day, write down a few things you’re grateful for. It seems simple, but it has huge implications for your mindset. A daily gratitude practice wears away at your brain’s negativity bias and helps train it to look for the positive. The more you remember to take a minute or two to write down what you’re grateful for, the more your mindset begins to shift toward one of gratitude.
#2. Practice Expressing Gratitude to Others
Set aside time during the week to express gratitude to another person. You can write a brief note, like inside a holiday or birthday card, or have a conversation with someone you’re grateful for. It could be a close friend, family member, or your mail carrier or grocery store clerk. Expressing gratitude can be an outward expression of our state of being, or it can help us practice being grateful, even when we may not feel it just yet.
#3. Practice Gratitude for the Small
How can you practice gratitude for what you already have, no matter how large or small? For some, it may be the ability to prepare a healthy meal or put gas in your car. For others, it may be having family and friends, helpful neighbors, or being able to call a loved one. Maybe you can just be grateful to be alive at this very moment! Acknowledging even the smallest things can help you build a gratitude ‘reflex.’
#4. Practice Mindfulness
Set aside some time for a gratitude visualization practice, where you can bring to mind all the things you are grateful for and sit in the sensations they bring up.
Awaken Can Help You Get Started
If you are new to the practice of mindfulness, you may find that your mind begins to wander. Allow these thoughts to come and bring them to your attention before guiding your focus back to the present. Mindfulness is just like a muscle that needs regular exercise to build its strength.
You may also find it helps to practice mindfulness at certain times of the day, to write down your daily mindfulness habits, or to invite a friend to help hold you accountable.
Awaken Pittsburgh offers mindfulness training for all skill levels, including beginners just like you.
Check out our free online mindfulness training resources
Join our online mindfulness community where you can find support and begin your mindfulness journey alongside like-minded people.
Through our proprietary curriculum, Mindful Connections™, we offer essential, evidence-based mindfulness training designed to meet many needs—from individuals looking to deepen their practice, to educators, to public safety teams and others working in high-stress professions.
Led by experts in their fields and grounded in the latest findings in neuroscience and dialectical behavioral therapy, Mindful Connections™ programs are a proven path to powerful and lasting transformation.
Our introductory series is geared towards beginners, introducing a spectrum of practices that can benefit all levels. In addition, we offer programs specific to intermediate and advanced practitioners.