Stoic Tools for a Good Life: Gratitude Practice

Stoic Tools for a Good Life: Gratitude Practice

In this third installment of VRB's Stoic Tools for a Good Life series, we’re outlining a few actionable tools for improving your life – significantly, quickly, and relatively easily. The goal is to provide clear tools you can use today in a straightforward manner that answers the questions of what, why, and how.

If you find these tools interesting and helpful, you may be interested in learning more about the tools, tactics, and other goodness we’re digging. If that describes you, subscribe to The Drop - VRB's weekly list of things to read, watch, listen to, and try that have helped us live better and be better. You’re going to like it. Promise.

Next up, build a gratitude practice into your life.

The What.

If the concept of a gratitude practice makes you initially roll your eyes involuntarily, you’re not alone. Before picking up this tool for myself, I equated “practicing” gratitude with the idea of simply settling for good enough. In other words, whatever my current situation is must be good enough, so I should be grateful and accept what I have, and move on. This outlook was both wrongheaded and simplistic.

Over years of building a sustained gratitude practice into my daily life, I’ve found more happiness, less anxiety, a more objective perspective, and…wait for it… a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. These are good things. They also happen to be available to all of us if we determine to investigate our perspectives. Gratitude is the tool for making that mindset shift happen.

Gratitude is the conscious recognition of a positive emotion generated by something tangible or intangible in your life. A gratitude practice is the process of spending time – as short as a few minutes at a time – purposefully noting the things in life that prompt those feelings; the things you have, people in your life, experiences you’ve had, etc. It is the purposeful acknowledgment of someone’s gesture toward us or the things that we have to be thankful for.

The Why.

Research indicates that gratitude is an incredibly effective antidote to dissatisfaction – one of the primary stealers of joy in life. In other words, gratitude will make you happier.

Gratitude is one of the primary predictors correlated with how happy a person is, how resilient they are, and how easily they’re able to make friends. Among other benefits, research has shown consistent feelings of gratitude to:

  • Overpower negative emotions
  • Combat depression
  • Boost optimism
  • Correlate with immune system resilience
  • Lead to better relationships

Bottom line, gratitude can make you a better person and more enjoyable to be around. And it’s free… which is nice.

The How.

One of the best methods for practicing gratitude is journaling. The gist is that you're simply taking time out of your day to write down what you're grateful for to remind your brain that your life isn't as bad as it can sometimes feel.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but here’s our recommendation for getting your gratitude practice off the ground. 

  1. Shoot for 1-3 days per week (more is OK too but this is a great start, and there is actually research showing that everyday journaling can diminish the marginal effects.)
  2. If you miss days or fall off the wagon for a week or two at a time, shake it off, and don’t worry about it. Just begin again.
  3. Start by noticing the small things. You presumably have somewhere to live. You might have a friend or two. You might have food in the fridge. None of this is guaranteed – these are excellent things to be grateful for. You can start by just writing down something that happened today that you can be thankful for (you got to sleep in, you didn’t have to stop at the gas station…get creative)
  4. Answer the following questions: 
    1. What am I grateful for today? 
    2. What am I grateful for in life? 
  5. Write down a handful of answers to these questions starting with, “I am grateful for…” and take a moment to reflect on each. For example, I’m grateful to have a refrigerator full of food today. In the history of humanity, acquiring food has been one of the central problems to solve on a daily basis, and here I am not only with an abundant supply of it, but I have a machine that keeps the food cold! I am among the luckiest people in the history of humanity to have access to an ice cream sandwich whenever I want one! Despite whatever else is happening in my life, this is objectively incredible and I’m psyched (grateful) to have this.
  6. With each of these notes, take a moment to feel that sense of genuine gratitude. Sometimes it’s hard, but the effort is well worth the payoff.

Try this out for a week or two and let us know how it goes! You don’t need a fancy journal to do this; bust out that old spiral notebook, and use it with the above prompts and you’re good to go. 

Don’t think too hard. Just do it and see what happens.