Feature Archive

Learning to Give Thanks

WebMD Feature

July 3, 2000 -- We often think of gratitude as a spontaneous feeling that spreads over us during, say, a dream vacation. But psychologists studying the effects of positive emotions say gratitude can improve our sense of happiness if we turn it into a conscious and regular practice. Feeling gratitude, they say, is something you do versus something you wait for.

The basics are simple: Every day, write down five things that you're grateful for. Here are six fine-tuning suggestions from Timothy Miller's book How to Want What You Have.

1. Don't force it. Gratitude is a "shy bird" that cannot be forced or chased. Try too hard to feel thankful and you'll thwart your intention -- like straining to fall asleep. The idea is to build a place in your life for gratitude through repeated practice.

2. Don't expect fireworks. Along with being shy, gratitude can be -- on first glance -- subtle. Don't wait to be moved by thunderbolts of gratitude. Seek out mild pleasures and savor them.

3. Avoid cynicism. If you're feeling lousy and sarcastic, you may generate lists that read like this: "I'm grateful I'm not homeless." "I'm grateful I don't have poison oak in my armpits." Miller says this tactic doesn't work. Resist it.

4. Play the gratitude game. Find an unremarkable object in your surroundings and muse on it until you find a way to evoke gratitude. Think of earthworms in your backyard, an old office chair where you sit, the power lines outside your window (they're ugly but they keep your family cool and comfortable).