Gratitude is a character quality that you build over time; it’s something you develop through daily, weekly, or monthly practice, just like other skills. It is the act of showing thanks, demonstrating that you recognize the significance of someone or something in your life. Gratitude goes hand-in-hand with acts of kindness and giving back to others, whether they are people you know or strangers. And gratitude is one of the hallmarks of being a great leader—it builds trust and connection in every kind of relationship.
It can be easy to get caught up in the busy parts of life, especially as a student, but giving back to show your gratitude brings you into the present and allows you to focus on just one thing at a time. It is a way to be more mindful with your time and energy, and research has shown that people who actively express gratitude actually live happier and more fulfilled lives. Wow!
So what does it really mean to give gratitude, why is it good for you, and how can you do it in a meaningful way? Some people think giving back to others means having to spend money, but that’s not true. Other people think that giving back needs to be elaborate and fancy—not true either. Let’s explore why gratitude is important, and look at ways you can give back without having to spend any money or plan any grand gestures.
First, understand that gratitude shapes your mindset. Approaching life with a grateful heart actually teaches you how to find peace of mind. Because gratitude requires that you think about others before thinking about yourself, you’re not as easily distracted by your own questions, problems, of self-talk. Instead, you are focused on someone else’s feelings and the positive influence you have by giving back to them. A positive mindset results from this positive impact, and the cycle continues as you continue to express gratitude! This is why building habits around gratitude is so special; everyone reaps the benefits as the effects ripple outward.
It’s also important to recognize that gratitude is simple and free. Gratitude is about your time and your energy, not your wallet. It’s about quality. Being present in someone’s life—fully present—is just one example of demonstrating gratitude, and it’s something you can literally practice every day. Here are 10 other ideas for expressing gratitude without ever spending a dime.
- Start a gratitude journal, where you write down three things you are most grateful for in your life each day.
- Write thank you notes to teachers who have inspired you, even if it was a teacher you had several years ago.
- Write thank you notes to other people who have brought joy, comfort, or security into your life, such as a family member, clergyperson, neighbor, nurse, author, babysitter, bus driver, or counselor.
- Listen when someone in your family needs to talk. Don’t feel the need to respond right away; just be there for them and listen with curiosity.
- Make plans with your friends in person, and ask if everyone will put their phones away so you can enjoy each other’s company without interruptions.
- Call your grandparents for a conversation, or visit them in person if you can. Ask if they want to play a board game, listen to music, watch a movie, or look through old photo albums together.
- Forgive someone who wronged you and express gratitude for the life experience. You don’t necessarily have to contact that person, but make the decision to be thankful that you learned something from what happened.
- Do some chores around the house without being asked and without expecting something in return. This is taking initiative which is a great trait of being a respected leader!
- Write a letter of appreciation to the servicemen and women in our armed forces or to the first responders in your neighborhood.
- Send an email or text message to say thank you to a friend who has been supportive of you in good and bad times; let them know what an important role they have in your life.
Many times, gratitude starts with kindness. Acts of kindness are easy ways you can show appreciation in life, even among people you might not know. This quality is at the core of volunteerism, and why so many people choose to dedicate their time to different causes. They desire a way to influence change, to express empathy, and to bring kindness into other people’s lives. A gratitude for life begins with the choice to spread love! Here are five ideas to demonstrate gratitude with gestures of kindness. Choose one or all of them to give back to others during your Winter Break!
- Visit a nursing home and offer to read, play games, or perform for residents.
- Volunteer at the local food pantry and help organize donations or assist shoppers with their items.
- Offer to help a neighbor or two with their chores, such as raking leaves, shoveling snow, or walking their dog.
- Entertain the young kids at a family gathering, so the adults know their children are safe and cared for.
- Ask a few friends to join you in picking up litter at the local park or playground.
As you think about how you will incorporate ways to give back into your life, know that gratitude is about intention. When you approach gratitude with purpose, you are being your authentic self. Understanding why it’s important to you to show thanks in that moment is key; people will feel how genuine you are and will appreciate your openness! Remember that when it comes to gratitude, you don’t have to do everything all at once—just take the first step. Your journey starts there.