Everyday Mindfulness

A 5-Minute Writing Practice to Help You Express Gratitude

Sometimes we can be grateful for people or things in our lives without really appreciating them. In this practice, Jennifer R. Wolkin, PhD offers a way to slow down and appreciate what’s around you.

When it comes to appreciation, how many times do you say thank you to a clerk or at the end of an email because it’s out of routine, habit, or social norms? It’s not that you’re not appreciative. It’s just that your brain falls into certain patterns of working, and you don’t necessarily notice the details of your experience. The human brain is wired to work fast and well, but to do things quickly, it uses familiar thinking pathways. The practice of appreciation will help you slow down the thinking process long enough to notice what’s around you.

Appreciation is about deepening the connection you feel for what you are grateful for. One of my favorite examples is being grateful for having food to eat. If you’re grateful for the food, you can then be appreciative of what you’re eating, if you consciously pay attention and take the time to notice the flavors, odors, and textures of the food and how it feels to nourish yourself. You can be grateful for things or people in your life without really appreciating them, but it’s difficult to appreciate them and not be grateful. That’s where mindfulness comes into play.

Mindfulness helps bridge the gap between gratitude and appreciation. When you are paying attention to the present moment, with authentic purpose, you can internalize and savor the true value and significance of your experience. The following mindful writing practice will assist you in expressing appreciation.

A Practice to Deepen Your Gratitude Into Appreciation

1. Set a timer for five minutes.

2. Identify an item, person, or concept you rarely notice and write it down. It can be how certain bodily functions work so seamlessly; it can be a person, like the security guard where you work; or it can be the process by which your food got to your table. There are many possibilities.

3. Ask yourself the following about what you’ve written down: What is the first thing I notice about this? What impact does this have on my life? To what extent would my life be different without this? What does it take for this process to work as it does? And if I don’t know, can I spend a few moments learning more about it to gain a greater sense of appreciation? Write down your answers.

4. Read all that you’ve written and reflect on what thoughts and feelings come up for you, without judgment.

5. If you feel inclined, share what you’ve written with someone you care about.

6. Each day, try to find something different to appreciate, and be gentle with yourself if it takes time to find something. 

Repeat this practice for at least a week, and then feel free to continue longer if you’d like. Or give it a try for just one week and circle back to it at another time.

Excerpt from the book Quick Calm: Easy Meditations to Short-Circuit Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroscience by Jennifer Wolkin, PhD © 2021 Jennifer Wolkin, PhD, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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