7 Ways to Practice Gratitude to Help You Grow

UPDATED: May 27, 2024
PUBLISHED: November 24, 2020

It’s easy to focus on what’s going wrong in times of crisis, like this pandemic, but choosing to see only the bad makes things harder. It doesn’t usually fix anything.

While periods of uncertainty are stressful, they’re also an opportunity for positive growth. That’s why instead of simmering in your worry, you should practice gratitude.

Research suggests being grateful not only makes people happier, but it also helps them face adversity. By refocusing on what they already have, gratitude helps people shift from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance. And abundance is empowering because it not only highlights the rewards of hard work, but it also because it provides a sense of security.

Reflecting on our blessings shows us that we have the tools and opportunities we need to succeed. But if we’re not deliberate about it, setbacks can mentally crowd out all the good things in our lives.

Especially in times like these, gratitude must be practiced daily to produce growth. Here’s how to do it:

1. Be vulnerable with strangers.

Humans are social creatures, so being cooped up at home is not just physically isolating but mentally isolating. Reaching out to strangers, even remotely, promotes gratitude. The reason goes back to scarcity; meaningful interactions with strangers are stark evidence of social abundance.

You may not feel comfortable going to community events right now, but you can still connect online. Look for virtual meetups—it could be business networking or a hobby group you feel comfortable with. What matters is having real conversations with new people. I recently attended a virtual dinner experience hosted by community builder 7:47, and even though I didn’t know many of the attendees, we bonded by sharing our stories.

2. Write thank-you notes by hand.

Saying “thank you” is a small but powerful way to produce gratitude. It makes the thanked individual feel good, but it also benefits the person giving thanks.

Writing a thank-you note is a physical way to reflect on your blessings. The key is to write it by hand: Not only does the process of handwriting take more time—meaning more time for reflection—but it’s more meaningful to the recipient, too. In a survey of 2,000 American adults, 81% said they view handwritten thank-you notes as more thoughtful than digital ones; surprisingly, millennials felt this way even more than older generations.

3. Surprise others with shared experiences.

Gifts are a great way to express gratitude, but giving an object is, for the most part, a one-and-done affair. To maximize the gratitude generated—in yourself, as well as others—give experiences instead. Surprise them so you can see their delight when you announce it and enjoythe experience.

Don’t let COVID-19 stand in your way. Go rock climbing outdoors. Treat an old friend to a round of golf. Play a board game online together. When in doubt, learn something together. This does double duty by making you feel grateful for the relationship and by helping you develop a new skill or interest. 

4. Reflect on your hardships.

While it might sound counterintuitive, one of the best ways to build gratitude is to reflect on your hardships. In doing so, you remind yourself just how strong and capable you are. Nothing is more empowering than being grateful for your talents.

Unlike the previous tips on this list, this activity is best done solo; sitting down with a friend to talk about your hardships has a way of turning into a gripe fest. But what if thinking about past challenges brings up negative feelings? Wait until you’re in a better headspace, and don’t be afraid to talk to a professional if the past continues to weigh on your mental health.

5. Volunteer.

A common misconception about volunteering is that it only benefits the volunteered-for. In fact, the Make-A-Wish Foundation found that 97% of volunteers feel more grateful after working to deliver a child’s wish.

It’s not just volunteering for children for this effect to hold true. Whether you want to pick up trash in your community, donate your time at a food bank or mentor young professionals of color, the result is the same. Serve where you see the greatest need.

6. Give positive but challenging feedback.

You know how much you grow from your own hardships? Offering challenging but positive feedback to others helps them in a similar, though hopefully more supportive, way.

This tip speaks to the two-way nature of mentorship. Mentorship helps the mentor just as much as the mentee—building up others is fulfilling. It encourages reflection not just on the mentee’s progress but on your own path and the ways others have helped you navigate it. That cracks the door to additional growth opportunities, particularly in leadership and management.

7. Celebrate your failures.

While it’s easy to be grateful for the hardships you’ve overcome, what about the rest? What about your failures? Failure is actually good for success. According to Ralph Heath, author of Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big, “Failure and defeat are life’s greatest teachers [but] sadly, most people, and particularly conservative corporate cultures, don’t want to go there.”

At work and elsewhere, failure is never fun. But in any situation, the “worst” outcome is often the best one for growth. Be grateful for that growth, and you’ll be less afraid to try something new next time.

Read next: 4 Gratitude Practices to Quiet Your Fear and Unlock Your Joy

Photo by Boiarkina Marina/Shutterstock.com

Serenity Gibbons

Serenity Gibbons is a former assistant editor at the Wall Street Journal and a New York University alumna living in California. She is the local unit lead for NAACP in Northern California. She enjoys writing about and interviewing people who are making a difference in the world.