Six Habits of Highly Grateful People


Just be thankful for what you got
Bad at gratitude? Six practices of people who know how to say "Thanks!"

This article originally appeared at Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.

I’m terrible at gratitude.

How bad am I? I’m so bad at gratitude that most days, I don’t notice the sunlight on the leaves of the Berkeley oaks as I ride my bike down the street. I forget to be thankful for the guy who hand-brews that delicious cup of coffee I drink mid-way through every weekday morning. I don’t even know the dude’s name!

I usually take for granted that I have legs to walk on, eyes to see with, arms I can use to hug my son. I forget my son! Well, I don’t actually forget about him, at least as a physical presence; I generally remember to pick him up from school and feed him dinner. But as I face the quotidian slings and arrows of parenthood, I forget all the time how much he’s changed my life for the better.

Gratitude (and its sibling, appreciation) is the mental tool we use to remind ourselves of the good stuff. It’s a lens that helps us to see the things that don’t make it onto our lists of problems to be solved. It’s a spotlight that we shine on the people who give us the good things in life. It’s a bright red paintbrush we apply to otherwise-invisible blessings, like clean streets or health or enough food to eat.

Gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear. We can lose jobs, we can be attacked on the street, we can get sick. I’ve experienced all of those things. I remember those harrowing times at unexpected moments: My heart beats faster, my throat constricts. My body wants to hit something or run away, one or the other. But there’s nothing to hit, nowhere to run. The threats are indeed real, but at that moment, they exist only in memory or imagination. I am the threat; it is me who is wearing myself out with worry.

That’s when I need to turn on the gratitude. If I do that enough, suggests the psychological research, gratitude might just become a habit. What will that mean for me? It means, says the research, that I increase my chances of psychologically surviving hard times, that I stand a chance to be happier in the good times. I’m not ignoring the threats; I’m appreciating the resources and people that might help me face those threats.

1/21/2019 11:10:27 AM

That last part is as important as the first. I virtually never pray and ask for anything, but instead always give thanks for everything that comes my way, good, bad or ugly. It is all for a reason, whether I can comprehend it or not. It is always for the best. Many times I have felt like I have been slighted and it is natural to feel like taking action or seeking retribution, but I always try to let it be and sort itself out and virtually always, it turns out to my benefit, the outcome being better than I could have ever imagined. So many times. Like now, I injured my foot 11 days ago and it's been looking quite serious. At the same time, my wife had a knee replacement and I've been her care giver for the most part. It may all seem to not be something to be thankful for, but actually there is so much to be thankful for. I'm off for 10 days and just relaxing for the most part with my wonderful partner. I'm getting to wait on her at her call. I'd love to be out working, but this relaxing is so fine, something I rarely allow myself to do. She was able to get it done, by a great doctor, at very little cost. We've met and interacted with so many fantastic people we've never met before. Be thankful and appreciative of everything and everyone that comes your way in life and you always be happy.

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