The other day, I drove my sister to her doctor’s appointment at 6:30 p.m. She only needed a general check-up and some vaccines, so it wouldn’t take that long, I initially thought.
I was wrong. We didn’t leave the practice until after 9 p.m. We had to wait for more than two hours before my sister could see the doctor. I was irritated. Was the practice just inconsiderate about their patients’ time or really bad at time management?
But then I reminded myself that my sister and I are lucky to have access to health care that allows us to see a doctor in the first place. This quickly turned my frustration into gratitude. And instead of feeling impatient and annoyed, I felt calm and content.
To be honest, I am saying nothing groundbreaking. When we adopt an attitude of gratitude, we are more likely to be happy (here’s a supporting study by Martin E.P. Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania). And many people know that. Most of the time, it’s just so easy to forget.
Some people are naturally more inclined to be grateful. But gratitude is a practice and anyone can learn how to do it. And the more often you do it, the easier it will come to you. Here are a few ways that will cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Recognize your privilege
Sometimes we take the things we have for granted. However, it is not a given that each of us has access to the things we do or have. Recognizing your privilege is acknowledging that you are lucky to have certain resources that make your life easier in a way that others are not able to experience.
For example, not everybody in this world, not even in the U.S., has health insurance or even access to competent medical professionals. Or when I get annoyed about having to put gas into my car again, I remind myself that I am fortunate to have a car in the first place.
See the positive side
There are negatives and positives to everything. However, when we focus on the positive, we tend to be more grateful. For example, when I had to wait for my sister at the doctor’s, I was able to spend two hours reading my book in a quiet environment. Or for example, instead of dwelling on my disappointment that I didn’t get the job after an interview, I appreciate that I got to practice my interview skills, possibly made a new connection, and am able to pursue other opportunities that might be a better fit.
Acknowledge other people’s efforts and let them know
When people help me, regardless to what extent, I feel immensely grateful because they took time out of their day to do something for me without the promise to receive anything in return. So I always let them know how appreciative I am by writing at least a brief but genuine thank you note.
Notice the small things in life
We often celebrate big things but tend to forget or trivialize the small pleasures we get to experience. I am not only grateful for my car, health insurance, or my college education, but also for slow mornings when I can drink a cup of good coffee and read an engaging book or for days when I get to spend some quality time with my family or friends. I also feel pretty lucky when I find a nicely-fitting pair of jeans (although I am not sure if that counts as a big or small deal).
Ask yourself daily: “What am I grateful for today?”
Listing the things, people, or experiences you are grateful for can be a daily activity you do before going to bed. Doing so helps me to actively identify everything and everyone I am grateful for and lets me reflect on what I have experienced and learned on that day and end it with positivity.