1. The Three Blessings

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well.

You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause “God was looking out for her” or “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”

Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now. ~ Seligman, Martin.

2. Using your Signature Character Strengths

2. Using your signature character strengths: We believe that you can get more satisfaction out of life if you identify which of your character strengths you have in abundance and then use them as much as possible in work, in hobbies, and with friends and family. This link above (Using your signature character strengths) will give you access to a list of twenty four new ways of using your character strengths.

3. An Acknowledgment Conversation

This conversation is about finding a way of expressing acknowledgment to another person so that the other person is left empowered by what you said. It isn’t about finding ways to compliment people, or getting people on-side by buttering them up. It is about expressing your experience of another’s value using the information that one’s actions have grateful significance; it infuses energy into the system.

4. A Gratitude Letter

The Purpose: A letter boosts gratitude, and shows appreciation for the contribution others have had on your life. It  boosts a positive relationship, whilst communicating appreciation or admiration directly to them. The concept: You communicate specific information to the person about your personal experience of appreciation/admiration of them, and your communication characterizes your experience, and not the person being appreciated. It is non-attributive. You need to be sincere and authentic. The conversation has a transformational potential for both you and them. 

The Process: Step. 1. Think of someone who has had a positive influence on your life, you are grateful to, but have not properly thanked. Step. 2. Write a letter to them describing your feelings and why you are grateful for them. Step. 3. If appropriate and plausible, deliver the letter to the person and consider reading it to them in their presence. Research: (Seligman et al., 2005) 

This is actually two interventions in one activity and each involves the use of multiple character strengths. The letter-writing activity alone is beneficial. To deliver the letter is another activity that requires bravery and probably many other strengths, such as zest, social intelligence, love, and perspective. 

Before delivering and reading your gratitude letter to someone, it is important to consider if this is necessary and appropriate for you to do. In addition, be prepared for any kind of reaction. While indeed the delivery and reading of a letter like this can be profoundly beneficial to the recipient, the writer, and the relationship, there is no guarantee that it will be positive. 

Some people expect nothing but a positive response to their heart-felt words but are left disappointed when they encounter a person who doesn’t know how to handle such a novel experience. Discussing the pros and cons of delivering the letter with a trusted confidant or practitioner can be a good preliminary step to delivering it. 

Research In a gold-standard research study of five positive psychology interventions and a placebo group, those participants randomly placed in a group to write a gratitude letter experienced the strongest initial increase in happiness, although the levels of happiness returned to baseline as the study progressed (Seligman et al., 2005). 

Just like some people take an anti-anxiety pill when they need a quick dose of calmness (e.g., before going on an airplane), this exercise might be useful for those clients looking for a quick boost in happiness. One study found that those who wrote a gratitude letter experienced a higher level of humility than those who performed a neutral activity (Kruse, Chancellor, Ruberton, & Lyubomirsky, 2014). Other studies have examined the conditions in which writing gratitude letters can be helpful. In one study, those who wrote gratitude letters each week for 8 weeks had a boost in happiness only if the person had an intrinsic desire to become happier (Lyubomirsky et al., 2011).

Four gratitude exercises designed to have people flourish

Above is a list of well researched gratitude exercises designed to have people flourish. Although it may seem apparently straightforward, it is easier said than done to practice gratitude (Emmons & Stern, 2013). So, what does it even mean to engage in ‘gratitude practice?’ Well, according to the gratitude researchers Emmons and Stern (2013),

“gratitude practice is systematically paying attention to what is going right in one’s life, to see the contributions that others make in these good things, and then expressing gratitude verbally and behaviorally” (p. 853).

Thus, in order to practice gratitude, the first step is to pay attention (Emmons & Stern, 2013). This aspect of gratitude refers to ‘noticing and becoming aware of blessings that we normally take for granted’ (Emmons & Stern, 2013, p. 853).

Focusing our attention on the positives also prevents the proliferation of the sort of thoughts and perceptions that are contrary to the experience of gratitude – for example, perceiving oneself as a victim (Emmons & Stern, 2013).

Here are some tips, suggested by Derrick Carpenter (n.d.), as to how to maximize the benefits of gratitude practice:

Try and focus on being aware of different things you’re grateful for each day – i.e. don’t always notice the same things. Even though you may always feel grateful for the same things – for example, your family – looking for ‘fresh’ grateful moments helps in the practice of gratitudeBe aware of looking for specific things that you are grateful for – e.g. ‘today my husband cooked my favorite meal for dinner because he knew that I’d had a tough day’. Being specific really maximizes the benefits of gratitude practice.Look beyond the things that you are grateful for that may be immediately apparent. Looking for new things can help us best practice gratitude. 

Be creative! Enjoy the process!Be kind to yourself and be realistic about gratitude practice. Be aware of obstacles that might hinder your efforts to practice gratitude. So, if you are likely to feel extremely tired at night-time and you are trying to schedule in time to practice gratitude, it may be best to set aside some time in the morning. Be a little flexible with yourself and don’t put undue pressure on yourself to practice gratitude in a way that is simply not working for you!Keep gratitude fun! Try new and creative ways to keep track of your moments of thankfulness.

Try and make your gratitude practice social. It makes sense to think of others in practicing gratitude because it is our relationships with other people that are the most significant determinant of our happiness. According to expert Robert Emmons, making the focus of our gratitude the people we are thankful for, rather than particular circumstances or material items, can enhance our practice of gratitude and maximize the benefits of a gratitude practice. So, perhaps one idea you can use is to write a gratitude letter (this is explained in more detail later!) or share grateful moments from the day at the dinner table.