Caring for yourself

How To Practice Gratitude & Spread it to Others

5 minutes

During hard times, practicing gratitude may not feel natural or intuitive, but it can make a difference.

During hard times, people often hear suggestions to look on the bright side, like:

  • “You should feel grateful for the time you had. At least they’re no longer suffering,”
  • “You should be glad you’re not in that situation anymore,”
  • “Appreciate what you’ve got. After all, some people have it even worse.”

Although these suggestions are often well-meant, pressure to be positive about painful things tends to be upsetting, not helpful.

However, research also backs the benefits of taking the time to notice the bright spots in our lives. Practicing gratitude isn’t about denying pain or pretending things are great. You can acknowledge that some things are really hard, while also being thankful for the good moments and great people in your life.

  • Tip #1
    Reflect on what you’re grateful for

    Practicing gratitude may not feel natural or intuitive at first, but it’s worth the effort; research shows that it can increase your happiness.1 In one study, psychologists asked a group of people to make a weekly list of five things they were grateful for. Another group wrote about hassles and a third listed ordinary events. Nine weeks later, the gratitude group felt significantly happier.2

    Practicing gratitude may also improve your health. Studies show that reflecting on things you’re grateful for can improve your sleep and strengthen your immune system.3

  • How to do it

    Try building a habit of reflecting on what you’re thankful for. They can be big or small, special or mundane. They may be something tied to your hardship, like getting closer to a friend you’re confiding in, or something totally unrelated, like a TV show that brings you laughter.

    You might cultivate gratitude by:

    • Setting aside time each week to list what you’re grateful for. Use whatever format works for you, whether that is journaling or a voice memo on your phone.
    • Sharing something you’re grateful for each day over dinner with a loved one or email with a friend who lives far away.
    • Reflecting on a person you appreciate having in your life as you brush your teeth in the morning or before you go to sleep at night.

  • Tip #2
    Express your gratitude

    Expressing gratitude can also have a positive impact on your life and the lives of those around you. In one study, people wrote and delivered a thank-you note to someone who had shown them unusual kindness. Not only did the note writers feel happier right away, the mood boost lasted for weeks.4

  • How to do it

    Set time aside to show how much you appreciate someone, whether that’s because they did you a big favor or because they make you laugh. If you’re feeling grateful for something long past, share that too—it’s never too late to let someone know that their actions mattered.

    Expressing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated or use flowery language.

    • If a loved one texts to see how you’re holding up, say, “Thanks for checking in. I love seeing your name pop up and knowing I’ve got your support.”
    • If a friend helped you through a rough patch last year, say, “Can I make you dinner? You were so supportive when I was going through everything. I didn’t have the energy then to tell you how much it meant, but you really made a difference.”

Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of your situation. Feelings of gratitude can coexist with pain, anger, regret, shame, jealousy, or sadness. If there are some days when you don’t feel up to looking for bright spots, that’s okay. You can always try again tomorrow. Over time, practicing gratitude can become one of many habits that helps you get through your hardest times.

Other Lessons


  1. David R. Cregg and Jennifer S. Cheavens, “Gratitude Interventions: Effective Self-Help? A Meta-Analysis of the Impact on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety,” Journal of Happiness Studies 22, no. 1 (January 2021): 413–45; Don E. Davis, Elise Choe, Joel Meyers, et al., “Thankful for the Little Things: A Meta-Analysis of Gratitude Interventions,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 63, no. 1 (2016): 20–31.

  2. Robert A. Emmonse and Michael E. Mccullough, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84, no. 2 (2003): 377–89.

  3. Laura I. Hazlett, Mona Moieni, Michael R. Irwin, et al., “Exploring Neural Mechanisms of the Health Benefits of Gratitude in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (July 2021): 444–53; Marta Jackowska, Jennie Brown, Amy Ronaldson, and Andrew Steptoe, “The Impact of a Brief Gratitude Intervention on Subjective Well-Being, Biology and Sleep,” Journal of Health Psychology 21, no. 10 (March 2016): 2207–17.

  4. Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist 60, no. 5 (2005): 410–21.