Gratitude 101


Do you feel like you’re always reaching? Like when you buy that thing, or get that job, or finish that goal, you’ll be happy? I’ve heard these aspirations called many things including shiny pennies, carrots, vision boards, bucket lists.

On the flip side, I’ve also read a lot about gratitude and living in the present moment. No longer reaching and living a life of ‘I am happy now’, not ‘I’ll be happy when…’

Back when I started looking into positive psychology, I shared the strategies to a more satisfying life from Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher and author of The How To Of Happiness. Even though they sounded simple, I wanted to look further into her research.

A good proportion of the tactics she discusses come back to gratitude – being grateful, expressing wonder at the world around you and counting blessings. Research has shown that practising gratitude regularly can have a huge effect on your outlook, disposition and overall happiness.

The truly fascinating part of Sonja’s research is that she has ascertained that:

  • 40% of our happiness is in our control and can be influenced by intentional activity
  • 10% is based on circumstances outside of our control
  • 50% is genetically determined.

Only 40% control makes me want to work harder, so gratitude is a new focus. When I say working hard, the premise is actually to be satisfied with your life as it is, but that can be harder work than I thought...

Below are some of my favourite practices, and some I’m yet to implement:

Five grateful thoughts each morning

This is perfect for the newbie to gratitude or those that feel they don’t have enough time to be grateful (an oxymoron?). Every morning before I get out of bed, I list the first five things that pop into my head that I’m grateful for. It sets a good frame of mind for the day and stops me moaning that it’s too early to get up.

Mantras and affirmations

Taking a mantra through your day is something I learned from Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles. The book is based around daily practice in meditation, but also gives you an affirmation to use as needed over the course of the day. You can either set a few reminders in your phone or go back to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you have a quiet moment. A few of my favourites are:

  • I’m grateful for this moment
  • I could see peace instead of this
  • I am responsible for what I see

I could go on and on with these ones… And she also has a very cute app that you can use as your alarm.


I’m not a regular journal-er but it’s a popular gratitude practice. Writing down at the start or end of each day what you’re thankful for helps ground you and is great to refer back to on a not-so-great day. Plus there’s so many nice journals out there to choose from right?

Photos and quotes around your home

Ok, I’m not a big fan of the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ sign, but there is strong research into the fact that having an uplifting quote around the home and surrounding yourself with photos of family and friends increases gratefulness. The photos in particular remind us of the amazing people in our lives, the places we’ve travelled, the celebrations that stood out. Even when we’re in the humdrum of everyday life, reminders of these can keep us grounded and increase our satisfaction with life in general.

   Some moments I like to remember.


Some moments I like to remember.

Gratitude letter (and visit...)

I’ll be honest and tell you this one terrifies me a little. Martin Seligman, pioneer for positive psychology, developed this exercise. You think of someone who has made a major impact on your life, write them a gratitude letter and visit them to read it in person. I would love to hear if anyone has done this or is interested in doing it. I imagine it would be a hugely powerful experience.

Celebrating moments

I am so guilty of this one and am working on this for 2015. I am a goal setter and luckily most of the time, a goal achiever. But what I forget to do is stop and celebrate each goal, rather than rushing right by on to the next one or brushing it off as not a big deal. Living in the present moment is about celebrating these achievements, for yourself and others. And why not take a photo and put it up in your house to remember it?

I’d love to hear how you practise gratitude? Or if any of these are enticing you to start?

Why schools are ahead of workplaces

At a recent work conference, I found myself in an awkward situation.

‘Close your eyes and smell it. Place it in your mouth and roll it around…’

No, my career is not going down the path you think. I was in a positive psychology session, savouring my malteser.

sunny disposition

Positive psychology

The session was run by Karen Marangio from Monash University in Melbourne and Kerri Morey, a psychology teacher from Brauer College. It was aimed at psychology teachers of 12–16 year old students. The presenters discussed the rise of positive psychology in schools and in wider society over the last 15 years or so.

Positive psychology is about creating and relishing the happy moments in our everyday lives and one of its main pioneers is Martin Seligman – he explains the concept succinctly in this video.


Brain breaks

Kerri talked about using positive psychology activities in class to refocus her students and improve concentration and enthusiasm – she called them ‘brain breaks’.

Why every trainer or workplace doesn’t use this strategy, I don’t know. Not only do we lose concentration in our day-to-day work, but longgg meetings and full day training courses are perfect opportunities to recharge.

As mentioned, one of the simpler activities we completed was to each take a Malteser and spend up to three minutes savouring it – the glossiness, the smell, the feel in our hand, the taste. It was great to reset the brain during a long conference, while also bringing up feelings of gratitude and activating our senses.

Other simple brain breaks might include :

•           the ol’ tap your head and rub your stomach trick
•           doodle time on a blank sheet of paper
•           a quick game of noughts and crosses.

Basically anything that sends your brain away from your work completely.

8 tips for a more satisfying life

We also discussed some of the strategies students at Kerri’s school are using to try and create a more satisfying life. Developed by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, there are eight steps they are implementing:

•           Keeping a gratitude journal

•           Practising acts of kindness

•           Practising mindfulness

•           Thanking a mentor

•           Learning to forgive

•           Spending time with people you love

•           Taking care of your brain and body

•           Developing strategies for managing stress


Psychology wasn't even offered at my high school, and I think these strategies are so important and could be really beneficial in both schools and workplaces today.

Are there workplaces out there employing any of these strategies? Let me know if you work for one or have heard of any.

Martin Seligman also gathers and compares happiness data via his questionnaires. You have to sign up but it’s worth adding to this important study here