Because many families may not be together for the upcoming holiday season and winter break, members of the Student Care Network are sharing suggestions to encourage having a gratitude mindset as a way to improve well-being and develop perspective.
“Expressing gratitude has been shown to increase happiness and contribute to overall well-being. It allows the brain to shift focus to the experience of positive emotions, and we should not downplay how powerful this shift can be,” said Adriana Kipper-Smith, associate director for clinical services at the University Counseling Center. “Not unlike the regular practice of mindfulness, the more you add gratitude to your routine, the more you will experience its long-lasting impact on your overall functioning.”
Ways to Practice Gratitude
Use your phone as a tool for practicing gratitude. Set a daily calendar reminder to focus on something that you are grateful for, follow Instagram accounts that post positive messages and prompts that encourage gratitude like gratefulness_org and gratitude_gram_, or use apps like Gratitude.
Practice gratitude meditation. Gratitude meditation is the practice of reflecting on things in our lives for which we are grateful. Learn more about gratitude meditations and a few ways to try it out by reading this Headspace article. Vanderbilt students have free access to Headspace. You can also attend virtual meditation at the Center for Student Wellbeing on Mondays and Thursdays. View the Weekly Wellbeing Practice Schedule and find the Zoom link to join in the sessions.
Think of someone who has deeply influenced you in your life, and tell them thank you. Think of someone in your life who has greatly influenced you. Take a moment to write down why you are grateful for them. Now, give that person a call and read your words to them. If that isn’t possible, read your words aloud as if they could hear you. Check out this Experiment in Gratitude to see how this activity went for these participants.
Gratitude photo challenge. Take a photo of something that you are grateful for every day for five days. Review your photos and reflect on what you feel grateful for. Do you notice gratitude for things that you didn’t think of originally? Can you practice this for more than five days? See how this simple activity positively impacted Hailey Bartholomew’s life after struggling to enjoy and appreciate all of the great things in her life during this TEDx Talk.
Give a genuine “thank you” in your daily interactions. In your transactions with cashiers, baristas and others, take the time to look them in the eye and really thank them. See how author A.J. Jacobs used this in his life and the impact that it had on his perception.
Create gratitude “stop signs.” Whether it’s on your notebook, a bag, the light switch or something else that you use or see frequently, place a note of sorts there to remind you to stop and practice gratitude. Listen to how Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast has used this in his life and how he teaches others to use gratitude to find happiness.
Reflection Questions about Gratitude
Below are a few questions that you can use to reflect, journal or start a conversation with family and friends about gratitude.
- What are you unexpectedly grateful for this year?
- Who or what is something that you are grateful for that you have not yet acknowledged?
- How can you show gratitude to someone or something that you are grateful for and haven’t yet acknowledged?
Cassanora Lampley, student care coordinator in the Office of Student Care Coordination, emphasizes intentionality in developing gratitude.
“We sometimes have to seek the joy necessary to experience gratitude. Be relentless in your pursuit,” Lampley said.
Looking for more ways to practice gratitude? More prompts, PDFs and worksheets on gratitude can be found on the Positive Psychology website.