Expressing your gratitude can be rewarding as well as healing. Here are some creative ways to embrace an “attitude of gratitude.”
Focusing on gratitude can sometimes feel like a tall order, especially if you live with a mental health condition.
Being told to “be more grateful” might sometimes feel like toxic positivity — as if your struggles aren’t real or that you don’t appreciate what you have.
But acknowledging the good doesn’t necessarily mean diminishing or denying the bad. In fact, expressing gratitude might even help you become more resilient while boosting your mood.
Why showing gratitude counts
Many experts believe that negative or unhelpful thought patterns and cognitive distortions may contribute to some mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety.
Addressing cognitive distortions and unhelpful thoughts is a key principle behind cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to help people identify and change their thinking patterns.
In a sense, gratitude is a positive cognitive distortion. Instead of focusing on adverse aspects of life or assuming the worst, expressing gratitude encourages you to redirect your attention to the people, places, things, and experiences that make your life richer.
Plus, a gratitude practice can help boost your mood — especially if you express that gratitude to others.
How to express gratitude
Consider starting your gratitude practice by taking a few moments to think about everything that you’re grateful for in your life — large and small.
Some examples might include:
- your health and wellness
- having enough food to eat
- the home you live in
- your loved ones and pets
You could also turn your gratitude to small things, like:
- a sunny day
- the smell of fresh coffee
- wearing cozy slippers on a cold morning
- a warm smile from a stranger
You may also choose to express your gratitude directly to the people in your life who have made a real difference, such as:
- family members
- anyone who’s been a source of support for you
Think about the particular ways they’ve helped you, and then consider how you’d like to express your gratitude.
Here are 10 creative ideas for expressing gratitude, either privately or to those you love and care about.
1. Write a letter
Gratitude letters can be incredibly beneficial for the person writing them, as well as the recipient.
Writing a gratitude letter can be a form of narrative writing, which may be an effective therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to one 2015 studyTrusted Source.
Writing things down often helps the mind to consolidate and process them. By putting your gratitude on the page, you can amplify the emotion for yourself.
You can try writing a letter to someone special, yourself, or even things you feel grateful for.
If you are writing a letter letting another person know how much you value them, those warm feelings of gratitude can be heightened.
Plus, getting a letter in the mail might be a welcome treat that feels special in this day and age of instant communication.
2. Be an active listener
With so many things demanding your attention, it’s easy to slip into the habit of only half-listening to your loved ones.
Active listening means you make a conscious effort to really hear, understand, and retain what someone is saying to you.
Making someone feel truly heard is an excellent way to express your gratitude to them, particularly if they’ve been a good listener for you in the past.
3. Take a mindful walk
“Stop and smell the roses” might sound like a cliche, but there’s real truth in how helpful getting outside can be, especially for mental health.
According to the American Psychological Association, spending time in nature may boast cognitive benefits, including:
- improved mood and memory
- reduced stress
- higher levels of compassion
Try combining a nature walk with a gratitude practice by taking note of a few small things that give you joy during your walk, such as:
- hearing birdsong
- a blooming flower’s fragrance
- the way the sun dapples through trees
Focusing on your physical surroundings and giving thanks for them can be a powerful way to ground yourself.
4. Give a thoughtful gift
Gifts aren’t always the best way to express feelings, and they’re certainly no substitute for honest communication.
But a truly thoughtful gift can sometimes show how much you understand and appreciate another person.
A great gift doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, the most meaningful ones are often homemade.
As you decide what to give them, think about what the person uses in their everyday life, or about your most special memories together. A gift could also be an experience, rather than a physical object.
5. Start a gratitude journal
Expressive writing through journaling can help to process negative events and emotions, but it can also help you to hone in on the positives in your life.
By making a habit of gratitude journaling, you can develop a stronger awareness of what you have, which may help you become more resilient to stress and hardship.
There’s no right or wrong way to write a gratitude journal. Some people write a simple list of the things they’re grateful for on a given day, while others may prefer to write a longer entry.
You could start your gratitude entry by noticing how you feel, both in your body and your mind. Then, try to list 5 to 10 things that you’re grateful for in this moment.
6. Be specific
Identifying specific, small things that make your life better is an important part of any gratitude practice.
It’s a good idea to be specific when you’re expressing gratitude to someone else, too.
Rather than just saying, “I’m so grateful for all of your help,” you might talk about a specific occasion when they lightened a burden for you or quote a piece of advice they gave you that really helped.
7. Offer your help
You can also express gratitude through your actions. Some people might find it difficult to ask for helpC or give support to others in lieu of taking care of themselves.
So if someone has helped you in the past, consider offering them help in return.
This could be logistical help, like running errands or assisting with DIY tasks around the house. It could also be offering advice on a subject you’re knowledgeable about.
Think about where your skills lie, and then ask the person what they need.
8. Cook something you love
Cooking is a calming and meditative activity for many people. If that sounds like you, then you might also consider putting your culinary skills to use as part of your gratitude practice.
Inviting someone over for a home-cooked meal is a nurturing act that can have mental health benefits for you both. But cooking for yourself can also be a wonderful way to experience gratitude.
Think about the foods that make you feel nourished, both physically and emotionally, and consider starting with those.
9. Try visual reminders
No matter how positive your mindset is, life is always going to throw you curveballs.
There will be days when it’s hard to focus on gratitude. But visual reminders can be a helpful way to keep yourself on the right track.
Visual reminders of what you’re grateful for can be just about anything, such as:
- photographs of loved ones
- a beautiful object that makes you happy
- tickets from an event you loved
- artwork drawn by your children
- Post-It notes or index cards with mantras or affirmations written on them
If you’re a visual learner, this can be an especially helpful technique. Place a couple of visual cues around your home, car, office, or anywhere else you could use a mood boost.
10. Return the favor
In an ideal world, people treat others the way that they want to be treated. So if someone has been a source of support for you, there’s a good chance that their behavior reflects how they want others to show up for them.
Think about the specific ways a person has improved your life, and then ask yourself if they might need the same kind of support in return.
Then, do your best to follow that same “golden rule” and pay it forward.
A growing body of research shows that consciously focusing on gratitude can be a powerful boost to your mental health.
It doesn’t necessarily matter what you focus on, as long as your attention is on gratitude. You could be grateful for something large, like your good health or loved ones, or something small, like seeing a sunset.
Expressing gratitude to others can strengthen your relationships and help you create a strong support network. The ways people choose to show appreciation for each other often vary from person to person. For example, you could:
- write a gratitude letter
- offer practical help
- tell them how they’ve made a difference in your life
Whatever method you choose, expressing gratitude is often a win-win for your mental health and mood.