Mindfulness & Gratitude

“A noble person is mindful and thankful for the favors he receives from others.” – Buddha

When you enter into a state of mindfulness, you make the choice to open your awareness to all aspects of your experience… positive, negative, and neutral.  You look at yourself, others, and the world with an open-eyed sense of curiosity, nonjudgment, and acceptance.  When you apply this same attitude of mindfulness to cultivating gratitude, you may find that you become aware of far more qualities of yourself, others, and the world for which to be grateful.

Many of us live a great deal of our lives with our eyes shut to a great deal of reality, seeing only that which we want to see.  Others have a tendency to overly focus on the negative qualities in their lives and in the world, leading to an equally distorted view of reality.  Mindfulness takes judgment out of the equation and simply observes and accepts all with full awareness.  When you begin to reflect upon all that you have to grateful for with an attitude of mindfulness, the world may begin to look a bit different.

Research provides an abundance of evidence for the positive benefits of experiencing and expressing gratitude. Dr. Michael McCullough, University of Miami psychology professor, has done research that suggests that one of the reasons gratitude has such a positive emotional impact on individuals is because it connects those individuals with one another.  In order to experience the greatest benefit of this connection with others through gratitude, it is important that the expression of gratitude be heartfelt and genuine.  Simply going through the motions of giving thanks inauthentically is less effective.

Dr. Robert Emmons, psychology professor at the University of California – Davis and gratitude researcher, explains that people who experience and express sincere gratitude feel more:

  • Alert
  • Alive
  • Interested
  • Enthusiastic

Additionally, people who express authentic gratitude experience less:

What holds you back from mindfully noticing all that you have to be grateful for in your life?  Choose to pause from the busyness of your life to notice yourself, others, and the world with greater mindful awareness.  Perhaps your partner has done something thoughtful or kind for you that you have failed to notice due to lack of mindfulness.  Or maybe your child has been loving toward you in a moment when you were “too busy” to notice. Or maybe the sun was shining on you this afternoon and you failed to notice the warmth of the light.  We all have far more in our lives for which to experience and express authentic gratitude than we realize.  The trick is to make the choice to open your eyes and start noticing your life with greater mindful awareness.

Mindfulness Exercise: Gratitude

Gratitude is a skill that can be developed and strengthened with mindful practice.  Imagine that you are bad at a particular activity… with consistent and deliberate practice you can improve.  The same goes for developing authentic gratitude.  Alidina (2011) suggests that following mindfulness gratitude exercise:

(1) Think of something for which you are ungrateful.

It might be a job, relationship, health condition, financial situation, etc.  The idea is that it is something that you tend to react to with anger, resentment, resistance, rejection, or frustration.

(2) Now, think of all the things that are good about it.

Allow yourself two minutes to come up with as many things as possible that can be viewed as “silver linings” or “hidden lessons” embedded within this thing for which you are decidedly ungrateful.  For example, perhaps the job you dislike provides you with money to support yourself or your family.  Maybe your relationship has many positive qualities that you have unconsciously chosen to overlook.  Perhaps your unwanted health condition has allowed you time to reflect on the meaning of your life in a new way.  Maybe your difficult financial situation has shed light on ways to be resourceful that you never before realized.  The idea behind this step of the exercise is to develop increased awareness of how there are great lessons to be learned and the potential for realization of personal strengths hidden within life’s challenges.  The trick is to find them and use them.

(3) Try this mindfulness gratitude exercise again for other areas of your life.

Notice the effect that reframing difficulties and challenges in terms of expressing gratitude can have.  We all experience challenges at different times and in various forms.  Recognize that with the emergence of all challenges and setbacks are opportunities to learn valuable lessons and become stronger.  While it can be difficult at times to find nuggets of gratitude hidden within difficulties, the rewards that come along with making meaning out of life’s challenges are invaluable.

(4) Commit to practicing this basic mindfulness gratitude exercise each day for the next week or the next month.

Research indicates that the expression of gratitude builds upon itself.  Once you start to actively and mindfully strengthen your gratitude “muscle,” it will become easier and easier with time.  In fact, you may find it somewhat amazing to notice how you begin to naturally look upon challenges with a new perspective… “What hidden opportunities are within this challenge?” or “What can I gain from overcoming this hurdle?”  This shift in perspective can result in your entire life looking and feeling very different.  The amazing part of this is that these lessons and opportunities were there all along… you just weren’t seeing them.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Featured image: Happy Thanksgiving by faith goble / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Elise on November 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    I just came on the website to comment about how much I love your last ariticle about why Gratitudte Matters for being so inspiring but I think I like this article even more 🙂 This is a great exercise to do because I think alot of times, we know that we need to express gratitude but get so caught up in our busy daily lives that we sort of forget or find it difficult to truly feel grateful. This exercise forces you to truly connect with your emotions and find a true expression of gratitude that you might not have otherwise. I am definitely going to try practicing this 🙂 Thanks Laura for another great article and Happy Thanksgiving!! 😀

    • Laura on December 1, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Elise – I’m so glad to hear that you have enjoyed both of these articles on gratitude! You are right – it is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of our daily lives that we can easily “forget” to experience and express gratitude. I hope you enjoy applying some of these ideas to your own experience. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Thank you for your comment!

  2. Jan Johnson on December 18, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Are you the person who taught the class on gratitude thru Concord Adult Ed about 10 years ago?
    It was a one night class but it changed my life. Thank you.

    • Laura on December 20, 2011 at 6:52 am

      Hi Jan,

      No, that was not me who taught a class on gratitude, but I am happy to hear that you had such a profoundly positive experience with a one night class on gratitude and that this article reminded you of that positive experience. Thanks for your comment and for visiting my site!

What's On Your Mind?