THE BLOG

Mindfulness in Your 20s: How to Use Gratitude As Fuel for Happiness

06/10/2015 02:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016

Plenty of research shows that gratitude is a key component of happiness. Even when practicing mindfulness, expressing loving-kindness to the world is an important step to a healthy mind. Taking time each day to fill up your tank with gratitude can be a useful way to travel through life.

I'll go first, then it's your turn:

I'm thankful for myself.
This past winter surrounded my car with a lot of snow. Before I complained about it, I was thankful I had the physical ability to shovel myself out. I was thankful I had the mental ability to know how to drive and have a job to drive to. And when I got so distracted with thankfulness that I stepped on a sheet of ice and bit the pavement, I was thankful I had the emotional ability to laugh at myself.

I'm thankful for my family.
Being a grown-up is hard. I want to go back to college where other people make my dinner, my bills are paid for in one enormous check, and I can still be wearing my flannel pajama pants at noon. Luckily, my parents know more about life than me and are only a phone call away. I just think every piece of food should come with extremely specific directions of how it needs to be cooked. Also, everything under a car hood should be color-coded; the only time you see it is when you're frustrated anyways. And why is it legal to make clothing out of material that can shrink? I guess what I'm trying to say is: Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I'm thankful for my friends.
You know how people walk past you throughout the day and instinctively say, "Hey, how are you?" even though there's a good chance they don't even remotely care about how you answer that question? Find the people who do care about your answer. Those are your friends. And I am thankful for each and every one of mine.

I'm thankful for that lady at the grocery store today who had trouble counting.
I ordered half a pound of turkey. She gave me 1 full pound and then asked if it was ok that she was "a little" over. Although I was "a little" annoyed, the counter was packed with other waiting customers, and I sensed she was very stressed. So, I thanked her. Because I remembered that I am financially stable enough to afford the one pound, which definitely made me feel grateful.

I'm thankful for my dishwasher.
Seriously. I am. Even though it annoys me. As I write this, the dishwasher in my apartment is louder than a warzone. Not to mention I could make an entire new dish set on a pottery wheel before that machine cleans the ones I have. But you know, it's ok. Because I'm thankful for the time a dishwasher saves me. Plus, now I know what it sounds like to be next to a hurricane.

I'm thankful for you.
Whoever you are. There's a chance you are a friend of mine, and you're reading this blog out of friendship obligation. But if this does make its way to the screen of someone who I don't know, I'm still thankful for you. And I wish you the best in life. And you look nice today. I know I'm assuming, but I still like to make a good first impression.

Try Thanks
OK, now your turn.

A major component of mindfulness is expressing loving-kindness for everyone around you, including yourself. This is really tough to do for the people who annoy you, dislike you, or have wronged you. But those are the people who will end up teaching you the most about life anyways. So, even if you have trouble being thankful for these people, you can at least be thankful for how their actions have shaped you.

Once a week, use some quiet time to silently express gratitude to the world. Start with yourself, then slowly move to a family member, good friend, annoying friend, acquaintance, stranger, everyone you see, and then the world. Take a deep breath in between each level of gratitude. Let it fill you up.

You could also consider keeping a gratitude journal. Each night, write down three things that you were particularly thankful for that day. That way, you're going to sleep with the light of others shining in your heart rather than the light of your phone shining in your eyes.

Take time to find the thankfulness in every situation. Once you are filled with thanks, find ways to express that gratitude in what you say and do. One of the easiest ways to feel happy is to make someone else feel it first.

Then, come over to my place for a sandwich. I hope you like turkey.

(Part 7 of an ongoing crash course on mindfulness in your twenties. Click here for the last post.)