Everyday Practices for Gratitude

The season of gratitude has arrived – but the intentional practice of being thankful should go beyond the month of November.

By: Bailey Gerber & Jake Hreha

The season of gratitude has arrived – but the intentional practice of being thankful should go beyond the month of November. Learning how to practice gratitude is a habit to carry with you in every season of life.

When you practice gratitude your everyday life is impacted no matter what positive emotions or negative emotions come your way. Consider starting your day with a gratitude journal or gratitude exercises. Each morning is an opportunity to start your day off right with a gratitude practice. These practices will cultivate gratitude throughout your day.

To get some tips on turning gratitude into a habit, we sat down with Dr. Karen Dowling, IWU’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Q: Why do you think the annual focus on gratitude in November is important?

A: I love this time of year because my first son was born at the end of November. I always feel such a sense of celebration and hope for new life. I think it’s important for us to remind ourselves of that celebratory feeling every year. We can get so busy that we lose focus on what we have: what we’ve been blessed with, how the Lord has gifted us, and who He’s put in our lives. This annual focus is a good time to refocus and refresh by appreciating the people and blessings in our lives.

It's also a time to practice humility and remember who has sacrificed to bring us where we are. For the space of this month, we stop asking, taking, and wanting things. We talk about Native American and indigenous culture, veterans who have served, and the gift of salvation we have in Christ. It reminds us that many people came before us to create the community and culture we have today.

Q: How do you take intentional steps toward gratitude in your own life?

A: I have to be intentional about joy and gratitude because those things don’t come naturally to me. I’m a very emotional, deep thinker. Gratitude is a way of manifesting joy and helping myself see God’s blessings in my life. I lost my father when I was 21, and I think that’s where my intentional gratitude practices started. It was a way of focusing on God even through the storms and feeling His presence with me.

My favorite practice is writing thank-you notes. I’m a pen-and-paper person, and I love old-school thank-you notes. I keep a drawer full of them in my office and boxes of them in my home. Intentionality means telling people when they’ve impacted me – and not just saying “thanks,” but also pointing out what they’ve done or said that was meaningful to me. It's a way of expressing gratitude that not only makes me feel grateful but helps cultivate gratitude in others.

For inspiration on hard days, I keep gratitude cards with powerful quotes to remember. I keep a “gratitude jar,” too. Every time something good happens, I write it down and put it in the jar so I can remember the high moments of my life. Over time, it’s become a collection of happy memories I can look through when being grateful feels difficult. It's a simple gratitude ritual that has had positive impacts on my mental health.

It’s easy to dwell on things that go wrong, so I think it’s important to make intentional markers that will remind us of positive things. Simple practices like marking good days on your calendar, getting a positivity journal where you can implement your prayers of gratitude, and reaching out to people who have positively influenced our lives can all inspire gratitude in our lives. It's important to practice gratitude to maintain a positive outlook on life and improve your well being.

Q: What are some ways we can express our gratitude in our communities this season?

A: I think it’s a matter of connection. We’re called to be intentional and aware of how we relate to others. How can we thank people for what they’re doing to make a difference? How does their work encourage us? That intentionality is important. How is what this person does impacting what I do? How can we collaborate? Seek out people to be grateful for and share how their actions matter to you. The more specific you can be, the better!

This can start by finding ways to express gratitude in the present moment. Consider sharing why you are grateful for a family member. While there are many ways to practice gratitude it can be as simple as telling a close friend or family member why you are feeling grateful. Not only does this improve your well being but it brings about more positive emotions in your family members and friends as well.

Even in our valley moments, we can still express gratitude. Refocusing on God’s promises can bring us back to a posture of gratitude and joy. When we seek out the Word, listen closely in silence, prioritize prayer time, and do devotions, we are more open to the promptings of the Spirit – and more likely to see all we have to be thankful for.

Q: How does practicing gratitude make us more aware of the world – and people – around us?

A: You never know what kind of day or situations the people around you are facing. If we’re focused on gratitude, we’re more in tune with the Spirit’s promptings in our lives. Our intentional connections might be the boost someone needs to get through the day. We never know when our small act has a large impact.

Q: How can our gratitude serve as a pathway for a deeper understanding of diversity and investment in those who are different from us?

A: If we’re doing the intentional work of investigating how people’s actions and identities positively impact us, we’ll become more curious about each other. We’ll get more courageous about asking questions and connecting, and we’ll be more constructive. Once you build relationships, trust, and bridges, it’s easier to share honestly with someone.

So often, we see how we’re different from other people and we think those differences are negative. But when we focus on how others have positively influenced us, we can build a bridge to each other. Gratitude helps us see God’s image in other people: who He intended them to be and how we can make deeper connections that build unity.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this season, we encourage you to reflect gratitude in your community – and see how that gratitude can create more opportunities for collaboration and unity with others. For more inspiration, check out this list of not-so-cliché things to be thankful for.

Bailey Gerber

Content Creator, IWU-National and Global

Bailey Gerber is a vocabulary geek and grammar enthusiast at IWU – National and Global, so she spends most of her time writing and reviewing webpages, video scripts, flyers, and – of course – blog articles. She loves all things involving words, and in her spare time you’ll find her buried in a book (probably with a cup of coffee in hand).

Jake Hreha

SEO Copywriter, IWU

Jake Hreha is a graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in advertising with a concentration in media presentation and design. He is passionate about design, and in his free time he enjoys cycling, traveling, and reading.

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