Thank you. 

Two words we say every single day. Almost like we are automated to say the words. Without giving much thought to the words we are saying – thank you for this, thank you for that. 

It’s good manners, thanking people for what they have done or what they have given. Most of us were taught to always show appreciation. Even for the small things. 

But is that it?

This got me thinking. What does it really mean to be thankful? To be grateful? The words are often used interchangeably. 

If we think about it, to be thankful requires an action by someone else or a positive occurrence around a person in order for them to express gratitude. So, one might say that being grateful is a positive reaction to a positive stimulus.

But that seems rather sterile.

And it occurred to me – perhaps in order to be grateful, one needs to understand what gratitude is. 

Understanding gratitude

In a quest to understand gratitude, the following definition comes to mind – 

“Gratitude is an emotion similar to appreciation. The American Psychological Association (n.d.) more specifically defines this phenomenon as a sense of happiness and thankfulness in response to a fortunate happenstance or tangible gift.

Gratitude is both a state and a trait (Jans-Beken et al., 2020). Better explained, one can experience gratitude for someone or something at a certain moment in time, and someone experience gratitude more long-term as a positive character trait” (Positive Psychology).

In other words – and according to Help Guide“gratitude involves showing appreciation for the things in life that are meaningful or valuable to you”

So perhaps our above assumption was correct – gratitude is a positive response to a positive stimulus. 

But there is a little more to it than that. 

Psychology professor and gratitude researcher at the University of California Davis Robert Emmons (yes, he’s a gratitude scientist) describes gratitude as follows – 

“Gratitude is something we are all familiar with. We have all received gifts from others. We have all received benefits and kindnesses. What is the feeling we have inside when we receive the gift from someone – it is gratefulness. It is the warm feeling of appreciation. We know that we have been the recipient of a benefit and we feel a tendency to want to give back because of the goodness we have received. That’s really what gratefulness is. It’s really just a form of thankfulness”.

Gratitude comes from a feeling of thankfulness, gratefulness and appreciation. 

How can one practice gratitude?

It’s easy to say thank you for something you have received, but to truly practice gratitude for the small everyday things – like a chat with a friend, a hug from a partner, a kind gesture from a stranger and a cool breeze in the heat of Summer – takes practice. 

But it was Jon Kabat-Zinn that said – 

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

Just like a muscle, practicing gratitude takes conscious effort. And you can do this by practicing these 6 simple exercises – 

Make gratefulness a part of your morning routine – instead of waking up and immediately checking your phone, practice mindfulness first. For at least 30 seconds, start your day off with contemplation. Focus on how lucky you are. Lucky to see the sky, lucky to hear the birds’ chirp. Blessed to be able to experience a new day. Breath in and out on this thought, taking deep, mindful breaths. Focus on how you feel as you contemplate your blessings – however small – in life. Starting your day like this is a great way to remind yourself how big the small things are. How they all contribute to your overall happiness in life. And this thought and feeling will follow you throughout your day. 
Notice the small thingstry your best to notice all the small things that happen throughout your day (remembering that they aren’t actually small). Being mindful of the things that happen around you and stretching yourself beyond what is directly in front of you. Open your eyes to more of the world around you. Write small notes on your calendar or in a book you’re reading – wherever – about all the things that you’re thankful for. Notes that you will come across on another day and be able to look back on.
Keep a gratitude journal – Professor Emmons suggests keeping a gratitude journal. In this journal you can remind yourself of all the things that bring you joy – getting really specific about what happened to you during your day that brought a smile to your face. Do this on a daily basis, setting aside time to remember moments of gratitude that are associated with everyday ordinary events, personal attributes, or the people around you that enhance your life.
Keep things fresh – perhaps journaling isn’t for you. That’s ok. Try new and creative ways to express your gratitude. For example, Derrick Carpenter in his article The Science Behind Gratitude (and How It Can Change Your Life) suggests keeping a gratitude jar. Any time you experience a poignant moment of gratitude, write it on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. On New Year’s Eve, he suggests (and as is done by his wife), empty the jar and review everything you were grateful for. It’s a simple and eco-friendly way of practising gratitude. Take a look at Frieda’s gratitude jar below.
Practice a 5-minute gratitude meditationif you’re able to meditate, find a peaceful, quiet place in your home and tune into your senses. Take deep breaths in and out, focusing your energy on the present moment. Slow everything down by noticing that you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Be grateful for those things. As simple as that. Nothing special needs to be going on in your life in order to practice this meditation. It’s all about the moment and the simple feeling of being grateful for your senses, for your morning coffee, a good book or the kitty on your lap. Explore this simple practice to appreciate all the little things.
Share your gratitude we are almost all guilty of taking our loved ones a little bit for granted. Unfortunately. And this can create tension in an otherwise harmonious relationship. So next time you notice a kind act by a loved one, say thank you, give them a hug, buy them a cup of coffee. Do something to make them feel noticed and appreciated.  By consciously doing this and making the effort, you naturally strengthen your relationship. And by all accounts that can only be a good thing.  
Building any one of the above habits will promote the practice of gratitude. Because what it comes down to is recognising the good moments as they happen. Being grateful for the small things (knowing that they are actually the big things) and expressing this gratefulness outwardly.

What are the benefits of practising gratitude?

First and foremost, practising gratitude forces us to shift our thoughts away from negative emotions and instead we focus our attention on positive things that may have been initially overlooked. 

According to Positive Psychology, practising gratitude is important because it – 


  • strongly relates to overall wellbeing, including social wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, and psychological wellbeing; and
  • has a domino effect. If a person experiences gratitude, they are more likely to recognise the help and then later reciprocate that help. People who are thanked are presumably more apt to extend help to others in the future.
Additionally, and as set out in Mindful and Help Guide, practising gratitude can – 


  • Relieve stress and pain – feeling grateful and recognising help from others creates a more relaxed body state and allows the subsequent benefits of lowered stress.  
  • Improvement in health over time – as gratefulness reduces stress, this, in turn, can decrease blood pressure and levels of inflammation. This can give way to better overall cardiovascular health.
  • Alleviate depression – researcher Prathik Kini at Indiana University performed a study examining how practising gratitude can alter brain function in depressed individuals. Evidence was found that gratitude may induce structural changes in the brain. Such a result reflects how the mental practice of gratitude may even be able to change and re-wire the brain.
  • Better sleep – increased gratitude supports higher quality sleep and fewer sleep disturbances. All because our bodies are more relaxed. Also, if you express gratitude right before going to bed, you fall asleep with a more positive outlook.
  • Improved focus – if you begin to view the task in front of you in a more positive light, you spend less energy feeling stressed about it. You might even begin to view challenges as opportunities rather than hurdles. 
  • Higher self-esteem – viewing the world with a sense of gratitude can change the way you think about your own worth. Especially if you focus on acts by those around you. If your partner takes you out for dinner, they are not only spending money on you but are also spending time with you. This in turn makes you feel appreciated and loved. 
From the above, it would seem that the positive effects of experiencing and expressing gratitude are endless.

If you need help with practising gratitude or are not quite sure how to go about doing so, get in touch with Frieda Levycky of Braving Boundaries who can help you see the forest for the trees and the light at the end of the tunnel. Or why not join Frieda and Vee at the Reflect, Connect & Celebrate” Workshop in Cape Town on Saturday, 25 November 2023? The workshop is all about reflecting on and finding gratitude in 2023. It sounds like a perfect place to start to me! See details below.

For me, I will be starting a gratitude jar where my first little note says: “I’m so grateful I was able to write this article”. 

About the Author, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist. Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism.

Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website. Email: alicia@thebelletrist.com