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The Ingrate’s Guide to Starting a Gratitude Practice

Topics: Career Advice
Embracing a grateful attitude and mindset, which can benefit one’s career immensely, comes more naturally to some than it does to others. Thankfully, there are simple ways that anyone can get started.
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“Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” – Charles Dickens

There’s something about the phrase “gratitude practice” that rubs some folks the wrong way. But, you don’t have to practice yoga or meditation, or even be an optimist, to benefit from this kind of thing.

There are actually a lot of really spectacular career-boosting benefits of embracing gratitude. And, starting a gratitude practice actually doesn’t mean that you have to let go of critical or even pessimistic tendencies. There are ways to find the balance that’s right for you.

Beginning a gratitude practice is simpler and easier than you might think. Here are a few things to think about:

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Honing in on problems has its place

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Having a gratitude practice has absolutely nothing to do with forcing yourself to see the positive or “the good” in everything. Experiencing the world in a more optimistic way can be a side effect of gratitude, but to start there puts the cart before the horse. Gratitude isn’t about tricking yourself into anything.

In fact, there are even some really positive things about being what some might describe as a “pessimist” at work. (Those who feel resistant to starting a gratitude practice might find they’re well aware of these benefits.)

It’s a good thing, professionally to be able to identify what’s wrong and what isn’t working in any given situation. Wearing rose-colored glasses at work and simply ignoring problems doesn’t help you to make things better. Those with a pessimistic bent sometimes have a keen eye for pinpointing the bad and the ugly. And, that serves a real and valuable purpose at work.

The great news is that you don’t have to surrender your critical powers of observation when you establish a gratitude practice. This isn’t about changing who you are. You can, and should, continue to notice when something is broken and needs fixing. Cultivating gratitude won’t, and shouldn’t, interfere with that.

Gratitude can benefit you in your career

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There are lots of ways in which embracing a more grateful attitude and approach might help you professionally. Here are just a few of these potential benefits:

  • You’ll feel more optimistic. One of the first things you’re likely to notice after beginning a gratitude practice is that it changes the way you see things. Steering your attention in a positive direction can help you to feel more optimistic at work. This won’t be a phony force-yourself-to-think-positively kind of a thing either. Starting a gratitude practice can help you to feel genuinely more optimistic at work and beyond.
  • You’ll be happier. You’ll likely enjoy and appreciate your job more when you’re more able to recognize, and pay better attention to, what’s good about it. Focusing on the positive instead of the negative can be a real game changer at work. You’ll feel happier when your attention is directed toward the aspects of your job that you’re grateful for instead of what you’d like to change.
  • Your reputation will improve. Having a gratitude practice can help you to be more positive and that will make others want to be around you. You’ll likely notice that your reputation improves at work as a result of cultivating gratitude. Think about it this way. Who would you choose to partner with on a work project, a negative coworker or a positive and optimistic one? Gratitude helps you to cultivate these more positive, and reputation improving, traits. Once you’ve started a gratitude practice, expect to notice a difference in the way you’re received by coworkers, clients, and your managers.
  • You’ll be healthier and less stressed. Research indicates that gratitude improves both physical and psychological health. Work-stress derives not just from what happens while you’re on the job but also from how you process and live with those happenings. Gratitude helps to steer you away from negative and harmful emotions like regret and frustration. It equips you to work through stress more quickly and with less effort.
  • You’ll feel better about yourself. The way you think has a big impact on almost every aspect of your professional life. Having a gratitude practice helps you to be more conscious of the way you talk to yourself and the way in which you work through problems internally. You’ll compare yourself to others less, and generally learn to be less self-critical too, as a result of cultivating more gratitude. Integrating a gratitude practice into your life can help you feel better about your professional performance and abilities. And that could do wonders for your career.

Tips for starting a career-boosting gratitude practice


Maybe you know that cultivating more gratitude could help you professionally. But, it still just doesn’t feel right somehow – it doesn’t feel like you. Here’s the thing though, even if you’re the least touchy-feely person in the world, there are ways to start a gratitude practice that will feel comfortable and easy. You just have to find the methods and strategies that are right for you.

Here are some tips:

1. Cut back on the self-criticism

The way you think can either serve you well or hold you back. You get to make that choice. But, it pays to know that the voice inside your head is actually very powerful. If you’re continually beating yourself up over every mistake or error, or if you’re plagued with self-doubt and self-criticism, focusing on cutting back on these behaviors might be a great way to start your gratitude practice. After all, you should learn to be grateful for yourself (appreciate your unique skills, abilities, etc.), not just for others or for the things that happen in your life.

Talking to yourself the way you’d talk to a dear friend takes practice. If you’re in the habit of lobbing sentiments like “you’re so stupid” or “you can’t do this” at yourself regularly, it will take some time to learn to stop. So, start by simply trying to cut back on this kind of self-destructive behavior. There’s a short exercise you can practice that might help.

Every time you catch yourself being negative, take note. First, acknowledge that you’re being hard on yourself and that this isn’t a helpful or productive thing to do. (Just noticing when you’re doing this is a big deal, as it interrupts the negative thought process.) Then, tell yourself three things that you appreciate about yourself or that you’re grateful for about who you are. You might remind yourself that you’re grateful for a certain skill, or for your natural ability in a particular area, or for how well you get along with other people at work, for example. Giving yourself three quick compliments every time you catch yourself working in the opposite direction can be a powerful gratitude practice.

2. Make a list

The idea of keeping a gratitude journal has been around for awhile — and for good reason. It’s a quick and simple way to direct your attention toward what you’re thankful for instead of what’s pulling you the other way. Oprah’s gratitude journal, and her daily gratitude practice, has been part of her routine for years. If you’ve never tried it, a simpler, shorter version of the practice, geared toward your professional life, could be a great place to start.

Enumerating all of the things you’re grateful for about your job and/or career is a quick and easy way to begin a regular gratitude practice. Regular journaling is good for you because it helps you to regulate your emotions. When you use those moments of quiet reflection and introspection to be thankful for what you already have, your mood and your general sense of well-being will benefit.

Try keeping a list of the things you’re grateful for about your job, your career, or just your professional life in general. Add just one or two things to it every day — or even just most days. You don’t need a fancy journal or even a dedicated time of the day to do this. The easier the process is, the better. You could just keep a note on your phone, for example. The practice of keeping a gratitude list like this one might seem really simple. But, don’t underestimate its power. Give it a try and see for yourself.

3. Reframe setbacks

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“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Another great gratitude practice is to reframe the way you think about things at work don’t go your way. It’s easy enough to be grateful “for every good thing that comes to you.” The trick is to rethink what things you consider to be “good.”

As Emerson notes, “all things have contributed to your advancement.” And, you know too that mistakes help you learn for the future. What might seem like a setback at first could ultimately lead to something wonderful.

Learning to take “failures” in stride can also help you to feel comfortable taking more risks at work, and that’s important in so many industries today.

“Continual experimentation is the new normal,” says business psychologist Karissa Thacker, in an interview with Fast Company. “With risk comes failure. You cannot elevate the level or risk taking without helping people make sense of failure, and to some extent, feel safe with failure.”

Make a point to reframe the way you think about obstacles, slip-ups and even failures. Reflect on them for the purpose of learning and growth. And, remind yourself that challenges at work are totally normal and to be expected. And, changing the way you think about them can do wonders for your resiliency and ultimately for your career.

4. Be present

There’s an expression in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. This means that new patterns of thought can actually change the physiology of our brains. So while we can’t ignore bad news, we can train our brains to become more alert to good information. When you notice a positive detail in yourself or someone else, or in your environment, try savoring it for at least ten seconds. Most of these observations will be as simple as “the sun is shining” or “this coffee tastes good,” but do this a handful of times each day and you’ll feel an emotional shift. – Rick Hanson, PhD, neuropsychologist and coauthor of Buddha’s Brain (via

This practice of directing your attention toward a positive detail in your present state or environment might sound really simple, but it can be a total game changer. Learning to be more present helps you to enjoy and appreciate the simple pleasure of life more, for one thing. And, that alone is a pretty big deal.

A little goes a long way when it comes to gratitude. Your career, and your life in general, might just benefit majorly from even a slight adjustment.

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