gratitude taking for granted

How to Upgrade your Gratitude

I’m a huge fan of gratitude journals. Starting my morning with a dose of thankfulness is an incredibly powerful way to set the tone for my day. But after years of writing down what I’m grateful for, I’ve found that it is often not enough to bring about real change.

Thinking about gratitude is good. Feeling grateful is better. Acting grateful is the best.

It’s time we upgrade our gratitude, to not just think about it, but act upon it.

After all, what’s the point of all this gratitude work if it doesn’t actually make us kinder people? Gratitude done right should turn us outwards towards our fellow beings. It should make us more prosocial and caring, particularly for those who are hungry, homeless, crestfallen, locked up or abused.

There’s a better way to do gratitude. Here’s how.

gratitude taking for granted

STEP 1:  “Today I am likely to take for granted…”

Be honest.

Who or what are you failing to properly appreciate?

What parts of your life have become so familiar that you don’t fully recognize the privilege, comfort, or value that you enjoy?

A few things that came to mind might be:

  • The fact that you can walk down the street without fear of being bombed or murdered.
  • That you have a home complete with electricity to keep you warm, power your lights, charge your devices, and keep food cool.
  • That lady you see every morning on the bus who smiles at you when you get on.
  • That coworker who always stops and asks you how you’re doing and actually cares enough to listen.

This trick helps you identify areas of your life you are neglecting to appreciate, and therefore, are ripe for your attention. Once you’ve thought of something you’re likely to take for granted TODAY, write it down. Now it’s time to do something about it and move your gratitude form an attitude to a practice.

STEP 2:  “How has this person/thing impacted me?”

This is the “because” part of your gratitude. Deeply considering the benefits you receive from the most quotidian parts of your day helps move you from an intellectual understanding of gratitude into a heartfelt emotion.

“For instance, I am grateful for the lady on the bus who always smiles because she reminds me that no matter how bad the morning commute might be, WE ARE ALL IN THIS GOING SOMEWHERE TOGETHER. She shows me that in the morning it is not “me against the world”. Her simple smile makes me realize how the attitude I bring on to the bus can affect others, positively or negatively.”

Once you’ve considered the deeper impact of what you wrote down in step 1, let it sink in. Notice how it makes you feel to have this in your life. Highlight these emotions and takeaways, and then move to step three.


STEP 3:  “Considering this impact, I feel moved to EXPRESS my gratitude by…”

This is about action. How can you live your gratitude out in the world?

Think about the language and behaviors that will show others how much you appreciate what has been given to you. It doesn’t have to be huge. It just needs to real.

“Perhaps I can engage with the lady on the bus and tell her how much her smile means to me when I’m caught up in my own little mind games.”

And lastly,

STEP 4:  “Today I will _____ at _____ for ____ because ____.”

This is your commitment to action. Where, when, why, and for whom will you act?

The more clearly you spell it out, the more likely you will follow through. It doesn’t have to follow the above sentence exactly. It just needs to be specific.

“Today I will tell the lady on the bus at 8am how she’s had an impact on me because that little smile has softened my heart and put me in a better mood for the rest of the morning.”

Remember this isn’t just another “to do” on the laundry list of life. It is an act of service, an offering of thanks for the ways that you benefit from the actions of others. If you never share this impact with them, they’ll never know and never benefit. It’s like hogging all the goodness.

To Sum Up

Gratitude can be transformative if you do more than just think it in your mind. Feel it in your heart and live it in your words and actions.

I constantly remind myself how so much of my day depends upon others showing up and putting in work. Yet it is so easy to take this effort for granted because we assume it is their “job”.  We neglect to acknowledge that job or not, we are benefitting from the labor and care of another human.

When we see how we are all benefactors of human kindness and exertion–from the clothes we wear to the roads we travel, to the food we eat to people who grow it, cook it, ship it, and store it, to all the invisible people who make our lives run smoothly–it becomes nearly impossible to not feel grateful. When we are aware of the deeply intertwined nature of life,  expressing gratitude simply becomes a default for how we go about our day rather a forced activity.

Living gratefully,

~ Jeff

I’m Jeff Siegel, a wellness coach and mindfulness teacher, helping people upgrade their habits and improve their health. For free bi-monthly wisdom on how to eat, move, and be healthier, sign-up for my newsletter. If you’d like to explore working together, you can schedule a private 30-min consultation call with me.

Jeff Siegel
Jeff Siegel, M.Ed, is a health and wellness coach, Harvard University mindfulness instructor, and personal trainer.

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