In Culture

Elaine Kiziah, founder of Joybook, shares weekly “soulful to-do’s” with her members. These are simple things that you can do as you go through your week — little actions or mindset shifts that will enrich your life without taking up a lot of time. Just in time for our first socially-distant Thanksgiving, Elaine agreed to let us share one of her posts on gratitude.

gratitude practice

This is Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., and so it seemed fitting to go with a gratitude theme for our soulful to-do.

As I contemplate this theme, I’m aware that I’m in a bit of a gratitude rut. And so I want to consciously shake things up a bit.

Maybe you’ll connect with this too…

My Usual Gratitude Practice

My go-to way of “doing” gratitude is about identifying and appreciating life’s simple pleasures — basic things I would otherwise take for granted. Sunlight. Breathing. Walking. A loving husband — and many other beautiful souls in my life. My ability to read and write. Healthy and delicious food from my farmer’s market. A safe and comfortable home to live in. Journaling. My favorite pen. Color. All kinds of little and big things that help make life worth living.

I notice and name them. And then I take a few moments to really feel my good fortune and to cultivate a sense of gratitude for these things.

And come Thanksgiving, as I sit at the table with family and friends — or, this year, as we peer at one another on the Zoom screen — those kinds of gratitudes are the same things I would usually be mentioning as we each share what we’re thankful for.

But at this year’s holiday meal — and this week overall — I want to do gratitude a little differently…

Two Kinds of Gratitude

The fact is, there are two different kinds of gratitude. And I don’t think I lean into the second kind of gratitude practice often enough.

What are these two kinds?

There’s “gratitude for” and “gratitude to”. The first one places the emphasis on the gift, whereas the second emphasizes the source of that gift.

They’re both lovely practices. I just happen to be a little more skilled at the first kind. “Gratitude for” is a kind of acceptance and savoring. It involves taking life exactly as it is and looking for the good that is already present. Not only is there a sense that what life offers is enough, but that there are many profound gifts to be discovered if we look for them.

It’s exactly the sentiment that’s embedded in that phrase you hear me say all the time: “Life is beautiful. Don’t miss it.”

A Gratitude Practice that Improves Connection

But for this week — during this time when I’m missing the presence of people I love, and also feeling sad about the social divisions and rifts we’ve seen this year — it feels especially meaningful to lean into the second kind of gratitude practice.

Because this practice, at its core, is about connection.

“Gratitude to” involves recognizing the many gifts we have been given and acknowledging the sources of those gifts. This form of gratitude — toward friends, family, colleagues, caregivers, strangers, a higher power — can enrich our relationships and interactions as we become increasingly aware of how our life is shaped by others in beautiful ways, large and small.

It’s not about a perfunctory “thank you”. Instead, it’s about cultivating a deep awareness and appreciation for the way we’ve benefitted from the actions of others. In fact, some have asserted that this kind of gratitude practice is in fact a form of love.

How can we “do” this version of gratitude?

gratitude practice

How to Practice “Gratitude To”

Writing can be one way to help cultivate “gratitude to”.

There’s a well-researched happiness intervention that involves writing a gratitude letter to someone who has positively impacted your life. You describe what they did, the difference it made for you, and the appreciation and gratitude you feel. Just that can be a lovely practice (with meaningful benefits). 

But delivering and reading the letter in-person is even more powerful — in fact, when compared with other positive psychology interventions, this was found by far to give the biggest and longest-lasting boost to happiness. (In these days of Covid-19, though, it might be better to read it over the phone or via Zoom before then mailing your letter.)

There are smaller and simpler ways of doing this kind of gratitude practice, though. And that’s my invitation to you this week.

Pause periodically, and just take a minute to reflect on your day so far and the ways others have enriched it. Focus on one thing that comes to mind and really cultivate a sense of gratitude about that.

Think about the person’s actions — regardless of whether they consciously did them as a gift to you. Think about the efforts that went into it, the talents or personal qualities behind it, the good intentions behind it.

And for a few moments, really soak in a sense of gratitude for that person or people and what they’ve done.

Here’s an example of my own…

Right now I’m reflecting on a call I had this morning with some other Joybookers who’ve been members since the beginning and who have invested in Joybook in so many ways — with their time, their money, their hearts, their minds.

I feel so much gratitude for the leaps of faith they’ve taken again and again. Joining Joybook. Journaling about sometimes tough topics and then being vulnerable and authentic in sharing their insights. Offering their feedback and support as I’ve been building and nurturing this site and community. Believing in me and in this vision. And just being the loving, thoughtful, earnest, beautiful people that they are — which has lifted my spirits, taught me important lessons, and strengthened my resolve and sense of calling when it comes to what I’m trying to do through Joybook.

I’m even thinking of some specific examples of things they did — although, for the sake of both privacy and word count, I won’t name them here. But you get the picture.

In this example, I’m focused on people currently in my life.

But you could also think about ripple effects from actions that people took in the past. For example, I could have focused on my parents and all they did for me that has enabled my experiences today. Or the anonymous (to me) creators of Zoom or the Internet itself, because I wouldn’t be connecting with y’all without their efforts.

You could also apply this same practice to non-humans. For instance, thinking about the gifts your pet has offered you. Or feeling a deep gratitude to your concept of a higher power for today’s gifts and expressing that in a short prayer of thanks.

How to Use this Gratitude Practice on Thanksgiving

If you want to introduce this practice into your Thanksgiving celebrations this year — which I plan to do — try taking time to say some heartfelt and specific words of thanks to the people sharing your meal with you. Or try making some calls to people you won’t get to see, and sharing your gratitude that way.

Do be specific, though. The more precisely you can name what you appreciate about them and their actions, the more meaningful it will be for both of you.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! I hope it’s a beautiful week full of the joys of gratitude, no matter how (or whether) you’re celebrating this holiday.

gratitude practice

Other Gratitude Resources from Give and Take

About the Author

Elaine Kiziah, Ph.D., teaches soulful approaches to managing time and life — including journaling as a tool for transformation. She’s an award-winning trainer, a life coach, and a big-hearted advocate for the meaningful work of listening to your own soul. She’s also the founder and host of Joybook — a life learning community offering online courses, journaling prompts, and group coaching. Elaine’s motto is “Life is beautiful. Don’t miss it.”

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