Nearly everyone thinks about giving thanks at least a little this time of year. But some of us take gratitude to the next level.
For these folks, gratitude isn’t reserved for special occasions like Thanksgiving. Instead, it becomes a daily habit though good times and bad. And science shows consistently counting your blessings in this way actually rewires your brain to make seeing the positive in life easier and more automatic. This, in turn, boosts happiness and even makes you more likely to be successful.
So how do you achieve this next level of advanced gratitude? UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has ideas. Some of the tips rounded up by writer Jeremy Adam Smith are less than earth-shattering (we should all stop and smell the roses? you don’t say) but a few are both genuinely unexpected and likely to level up your own gratitude game just in time for Thanksgiving.
1. They think about death regularly.
This might sound like a horrible way to improve your mental health, but the idea actually has deep roots. Stoic philosophers advocated “memento mori,” or regularly contemplating your own death. Many spiritual traditions, including Christianity and Buddhism, urge followers to keep their own mortality in mind. And Steve Jobs offered the same advice in his famed Stanford commencement speech .
Smith points out that research backs up this ancient intuition. Studies show that visualizing their own deaths makes people more grateful. Similarly, giving up something (in the case of one study, chocolate, not life) causes people to appreciate it more.
While the idea of reminding yourself of your own inevitable demise is grim, the darkness of the thought actually serves to illuminate all that’s light and good in your life by contrast. To increase your gratitude, try reminding yourself regularly of all that you will one day lose.
2. They notice the pancakes.
Pancakes are yummy, but what do they have to do with gratitude? Smith uses the beloved breakfast item as an example of how the most grateful among us show their appreciation. They’re not just grateful for food. They’re grateful for fresh golden pancakes drizzled with lovely, sweet, amber maple syrup.
The most grateful people, in other words, “are habitually specific.” Not only does focusing on the exact details of what you’re thankful for help you pay closer attention to the nice things in life, it also helps you offer others more convincing gratitude. Specificity, it “makes the expression of gratitude feel more authentic, for it reveals that the thanker was genuinely paying attention and isn’t just going through the motions,” Smith notes.
And as previous research shows us, feeling thankful makes us feel good. Actually expressing that thanks to others makes us feel even more awesome.
3. “They thank outside the box.”
What does Smith mean by this clever play on words? While it’s easy enough to feel thankful for things like pancakes, true masters of gratitude manage to feel thankful even for some of life’s far darker moments.
“Here’s who the really tough-minded grateful person thanks: the boyfriend who dumped her, the homeless person who asked for change, the boss who laid him off,” Smith writes. Finding a reason to be thankful for our most difficult transitions “can help us turn disaster into a stepping stone.”
This process can’t be forced or rushed (pushing people to express positive emotions they don’t feel is ‘toxic positivity’), but when you’re able to look back on challenges and see how they turned you into the person you are today, you’ll know you’ve processed your past struggles and emerged a truly functional adult human being.