Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

5 Ways to Practice Gratitude: An Interview with Sonja Lyubomirsky


Today’s interview is with happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., who is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and the author of “The How of Happiness.” In 2002, Lyubomirsky was awarded a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize. Currently, she holds a 5-year million-dollar grant (with Ken Sheldon) from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research on the possibility of permanently increasing happiness. Her research has been written up in dozens of magazines and newspapers and she has appeared in multiple TV shows, radio shows, and feature documentaries in North America and Europe


Question: I know that gratitude is one key component of happiness, and you mention keeping a gratitude journal, where you regularly write down the things for which you are thankful. But are there other ways of practicing gratitude too?

Sonja: Absolutely. There are several ways you can express gratitude.

1. Write gratitude letters.

One strategy that has been test proven to promote happiness is writing gratitude letters. After you spend some time thinking about the people who you most appreciate you sit down to draft a letter to them. The mere act of expression is what is most important, so you don’t even need to give them the letters.

2. Express gratitude in person.


Extroverts might benefit from expressing their gratitude in person to a special mentor, sibling, co-worker, or friend. It doesn’t need to be formal. Just a simple gesture of thanks is only needed to feel the benefits of this kind of gratitude.

3. Express gratitude in art.

For more artistic folks, you could make a gratitude collage, where you cut out images of things or places or people that you most appreciate. For example, you might find a photo from a special vacation and paste it on your collage with other favorite things, like dark chocolate.

4. Make a gratitude date.

I like to make a gratitude date. By that I mean that I run with a partner and we will discuss all the things we are thankful for, so that the run is a time set aside to count blessings.


5. Devote one time a day to gratitude.

And there are certain times you can devote to gratitude. For example, at the beginning of your meals, or at bedtime, or when your husband gets home from work. Committing to a specific time establishes a practice of gratitude.

Question: I know that one of your suggestions for happiness is to develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships. Could you share with us some specific ways to do that?

Sonja: Sure. Gratitude, of course, is certainly one … appreciating what you have. And leaning how to think positively, too, for example identifying the steps of action you can take if you are in a bad situation, instead of ruminating on it. Focusing on your strengths is a good way of empowering yourself. And finally, focusing on your relationships: spending time with love ones, and investing in your relationships are definite mood boosters.


To read more of Sonja Lyubomirsky, check out her book, “The How of Happiness,” which is available in an iPhone application, as well.

Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • david

    Another way is to follow or join in the ‘GratitudeStream’ – a global “stream” of good thoughts and thanks.

  • Cesar Bondoc

    I totally agree with Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s write-up about 5 ways to be happy. I am believer in the teachings of JESUS and the Judeo Christian belief of the old. Being grateful, a positive attitude, doing kindness to others, being content and alwways expressing thankfulness will result in a happy life. All of these ways are biblically correct and relevant. I am so blessed to read your inspirational articles doctor. Please continue to post it here. May God bless your work and may He continue to use you to touch the lives of many people who are in need of positive advise.

  • JLLB

    I wonder how others are able to do this when they are swallowed up in the depths of depression. Ideas?

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  • michael

    hello sonja
    ok your 5 strategies for gratitude are a great start daily and a way to continue to focus on where you can shift your thoughts to perceive gratitude in your life. great.
    so what if you learned your beliefs, learnings and teachings (including your book) about happiness,were/are doing more damage than help to peoples lives in many forms…. Would you want to know how you were setting that up? What if we could prove your original presupposition(s) and outcomes were ineffective. And could prove it, while showing you how to effectively and efficiently achieve gratitude daily for many if not all of our lives challenges.?
    ok this is bold, but true…..
    if you truly want to help,, and i think you do, email me and we can have a discussion on how to do more of what you want.
    love and gratitude

  • Ashraf

    Chapter 15: Gratitude in the Qur’ân
    Allâh tells us: “Then remember Me; I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject Me” (al-Baqarah 2:152).
    And He has told us that only those who are grateful to Him truly worship Him:
    “… and be grateful to Allâh, if it is Him you worship” (al-Baqarah 2:172)
    Allâh has mentioned gratitude alongside îmân, and has made it clear that
    He gains
    nothing from punishing His people if they give thanks to Him and believe in Him:
    “What can Allâh gain by your punishment, if you are grateful and you believe?…”
    (an-Nisâ’ 4:147)
    In other words: if you carry out the duties for which you were created, namely gratitude
    and îmân, why should Allâh punish you?
    Allâh has divided people into two categories, the people of gratitude (shukr) and the
    people of ingratitude (kufr). The thing most disliked by Him is kufr and the people of
    kufr, the thing most liked by Him is gratitude and the people of gratitude:
    “We showed him (i.e. man) the way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on
    his will).”(al-Insân 76:3)
    According to the Qur’ân, the Prophet Sulaymân (AS) said:
    “… This is by the grace of my Lord! – to test me whether I am grateful or
    ungrateful! And if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul; but
    if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is free of all needs, Supreme in honour!” (an-
    Naml 27: 40)
    And Allâh said:
    “And remember! your Lord caused to be declared (publicly): ‘If you are grateful, I
    will add more (favours) unto you; but if you show ingratitude, truly My punishment
    is terrible indeed’” (Ibrâhîm 14:7).
    “If you reject (Allâh), truly Allâh has no need of you; but He likes not ingratitude from
    His slaves: if you are grateful, He is pleased with you…” (az-Zumar 39:7).
    There are many âyât in the Qur’ân where Allâh makes a contrast between gratitude
    (shukr) and ingratitude (kufr). For example:
    “Muhammad is no more than a Messenger: many were the Messengers that passed
    away before him. If he died or were slain, will you then turn back on your heels? If
    any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allâh, but Allâh (on
    the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude” (?l
    ‘Imrân 3:144).
    The rewards of gratitude
    The reward of gratitude is unlimited:
    “ …If you are grateful, I will add more (favours) unto you…” (Ibrâhîm 14:7)
    In contrast, other rewards and divine favours are conditional upon His will, for example,
    relief from poverty:
    “… but if you fear poverty, soon will Allâh enrich you, if He wills…” (at-Tawbah 9:28)
    answering prayers:
    “Nay – on Him would you call, and if it be His Will, He would remove (the distress)
    which occasioned your call upon Him…” (al-An‘âm 6:41).
    rizq (sustenance, provision):
    “… He gives Sustenance to whom He pleases” (ash-Shura 42:19).
    “… He forgives whom He wills, and He punishes whom He wills…” (al-Fath 48:14).
    Divine mercy:
    “Again will Allâh, after this, turn (in mercy) to whom He will…” (at-Tawbah 9:27).
    But Allâh has made the reward for gratitude free from any conditions, as in:
    “… And swiftly shall We reward those that (serve Us with) gratitude” (?l ‘Imrân
    “But Allâh will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude” (?l ‘Imrân
    Iblîs and gratitude
    When the enemy of Allâh realized the virtue of gratitude, he made his main aim to keep
    people away from it:
    “‘Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and
    their left: nor will You find, in most of them, gratitude (for Your mercies).’” (al?‘
    râf 7:17)
    Allâh has described the people of gratitude as being very few:
    “… But few of My slaves are grateful!” (Sabâ’ 43:13).
    Gratitude and ‘ibâdah
    Allâh explained in the Qur’ân that the only people who truly worship Him are those who
    give thanks (gratitude) to Him, so those who are not among the people of gratitude are
    not among the people of ‘ibâdah:
    “… and be grateful to Allâh, if it is Him you worship” (al-Baqarah 2:172)
    He instructed His slave Mûsâ (AS) to accept what He had bestowed upon him with
    “…O Mûsâ! I have chosen you above (other) men, by the mission I (have given you)
    and the words I (have spoken to you): take then the (revelation) which I give you,
    and be of those who give thanks.” (al-?‘râf 7:144)
    Allâh has told us that His pleasure may be attained through gratitude:
    “… If you are grateful, He is pleased with you…” (az-Zumar 39:7).
    Allâh praised Ibrâhîm (AS) for being grateful for His favours:
    “Ibrâhîm was indeed a model. Devoutly obedient to Allâh, (and) true in faith, and
    he joined not gods with Allah. He showed his gratitude for the favours of Allâh,
    Who chose him, and guided him to a straight way.” (an-Nahl 16:120-121)
    Allâh mentioned that gratitude is the purpose of creation:
    “It is He Who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew
    nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affection: that you
    may give thanks (to Allâh).” (an-Nahl, 16:78)
    “Allâh had helped you at Badr, when you were a contemptible little force; then fear
    Allâh; thus may you show your gratitude.” (?l ‘Imrân 3:123).
    As well as being the purpose of creation, gratitude was also the purpose of sending the
    Prophet (SAAS):
    “Then remember Me; I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject
    Me.” (al-Baqarah 2:152).
    Chapter 16: Ahâdîth on gratitude
    It was reported that the Prophet (SAAS) stayed up all night, standing until his feet
    became swollen. When he was asked, “Why are you doing this, when Allâh has forgiven
    all your past and future wrong actions?” he replied, “Should I not be a grateful slave?”
    (al-Bukhârî, Muslim)
    The Prophet (SAAS) told Mu‘âdh (RA): “By Allâh, I love you, so do not forget to say at
    the end of every salâh, ‘O Allâh, help me to remember You and to give thanks to You and
    to worship You well’” (Ahmad, at-Tirmidhî).
    Hishâm ibn ‘Urwah said: “Among the du‘â of the Prophet (SAAS) is: ‘O Allâh, help me
    to remember You, to give thanks to You and to worship You well.’”
    Ibn ‘Abbâs (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAAS) said: “There are four qualities,
    whoever is given them has truly been given the best in this world and the next. They are:
    a grateful heart (that is thankful to Allâh), a remembering tongue (that mentions Allâh
    often), an enduring body (to persevere through the trials which Allâh may send), and a
    faithful wife (who does not cheat him of her body or his wealth).”
    Al-Qâsim ibn Muhammad reported from ‘?’ishah (RA) that the Prophet (SAAS) said:
    “No blessing is bestowed on a slave and he realizes that it is from Allâh, but the reward
    of giving gratitude for it is written for him. Never does Allâh know the regret of His slave
    for a wrong action he has committed, but Allâh forgives his wrong action before the slave
    seeks forgiveness. No man buys a garment with his own money then puts it on and thanks
    Allâh, but Allâh will have forgiven him all his wrong action before the garment reaches
    his knees.”
    The Prophet (SAAS) said: “Allâh is pleased with His slave if, when he eats something, he
    thanks Allâh for it, and when he drinks something, he thanks Allâh for it” (Muslim).
    Shu‘bah said: “At-Fadl ibn Fudalah narrated that Abû Rajah al ‘Utaridî said: ‘Once we
    saw ‘Imrân ibn al-Husayn wearing beautiful clothes that we have never seen before or
    since. ‘Imrân told us that the Prophet (SAAS) said: “If Allâh bestows His blessing on His
    slave, He likes to see the effect of that blessing on him.” ’”
    Ibn Shu‘aib narrated from his father and grandfather that the Prophet (SAAS) said: “Eat,
    drink, and give sadaqah without being extravagant or showing off, as Allâh likes to see
    the effect of His blessing on His slave.”
    Shu‘bah narrated from Abu Ishâq from Abu’l-Akhwas who narrated that his father said:
    “I came to the Messenger of Allâh (SAAS) looking dishevelled and scruffy. He asked
    me, ‘Do you have any possessions?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He asked me what sort, and I told him,
    ‘I have all sorts. Allâh has given me camels, horses, slaves and sheep.’ The Prophet
    (SAAS) said: ‘If Allâh has given you all of that, then let Him see His blessing on you.’”
    Abu’d-Dunyâ narrated the hadîth of Abû ‘Abdi’r-Rahmân as-Silmî from ash-Sha‘bî,
    from an-Nu‘man ibn Bashîr, who said: “The Messenger of Allâh (SAAS) said: ‘Speaking
    of Allâh’s blessing is gratitude and ignoring it is ingratitude (kufr). The one who does not
    give thanks for a small blessing will not give thanks for a great blessing, and the one who
    does not give thanks to people will not give thanks to Allâh. To be with a group is a
    blessing, and to be alone is a punishment.’”
    Ibn Abi’d-Dunyâ narrated that ‘?’ishah (RA) said that the Prophet (SAAS) entered upon
    her one day and saw a small piece of bread on the floor, so he picked it up and wiped it,
    then told her: “O ‘?’ishah, treat the blessings of Allâh with respect, for when it departs
    from a household it may never come back to them.”
    Ad-Darwardî narrated from ‘Amr ibn Abî ‘Amr from Sa‘îd al-Maqburî from Abû
    Hurairah (RA) that the Messenger of Allâh (SAAS) said: Allâh said: ‘The position of the
    believer in relation to Me is of the best: he praises Me even when I am pulling the soul
    from his body.’”
    Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAAS) said: “If any of you would like
    to see the great blessing of Allâh on him, then let him look at those who are less
    fortunate than him, not those who appear better off than him.”
    Chapter 17: The Sahâbah and Tabi‘în on gratitude
    Salmân al-Fârsî (RA) said: “There was a man who was given many of the luxuries of this
    world, and then they were taken away from him. But he continued to praise and thank
    Allâh until everything had been taken from him, even his bed. And then he still praised
    and thanked Allâh. Another man, who had also been given many of the luxuries of this
    world asked him, ‘What are you praising and thanking Allâh for?’ The man said, ‘I am
    praising and thanking Him for blessings which, if others asked me to give them to them
    in return for all that they have, I would never give them up.’ ‘What can they be?’ asked
    the second man. ‘Can’t you see?’ asked the first man. ‘I have my eyesight, my tongue,
    my hands, my feet…’”
    Mukhallad ibn al-Husayn said: “The definition of gratitude is abstaining from wrong
    action.” Abû Hâzim said: “Every blessing that does not bring you closer to Allâh is a
    disaster.” Sulaymân said: “Remembering His blessings makes one love Allâh.”
    Hammâd ibn Ziyâd narrated that Layth ibn Abî Burdah said: “I went to Madînah, where I
    met ‘Abdullâh ibn Salâm, who said to me: ‘Would you like to visit a place visited by the
    Prophet (SAAS), and we will offer you sâwiq and dates?…’ Then he said: ‘When Allâh
    gathers people on the Day of Judgement, He will remind them of His blessings. One of
    His slaves will say: “Remind me of something,” and Allâh will say: “Remember when
    you faced such-and-such adversity, and you prayed to Me, so I relieved you of it.
    Remember when you were travelling in suchand-such a place, and you asked Me to give
    you a travelling companion, and I did so… Remember when you asked for the hand of soand-
    so the daughter of so-and-so, and others also asked for her hand, so I gave her to you
    to marry; and kept the others away.” His slave will be standing before his Lord, Who will
    remind him of His many blessings.’” Then the narrator of this story (Layth) wept and
    said, I hope that no one will stand before his Lord in this way, because the one who does
    so will be punished.” (i.e. if Allâh has to point out that which should be obvious, this is a
    sign of a person’s ingratitude, and he will be punished.)
    Bakr ibn Abdullâh al-Muzânî said: “When a man faces affliction, he may pray to Allâh
    and Allâh may deliver him from adversity. Then Shaytân comes to the man and whispers,
    ‘It was not as bad as you thought,’ Thus the man’s gratitude will be weakened.” Zazan
    said: “The right of Allâh over the man who is enjoying His blessings is that such a man
    should not use His blessings in order to commit wrong actions.” A man of knowledge
    said: “The blessing of Allâh to us in keeping the luxuries of this world away from us is
    greater than the blessing of that which he has given us, because Allah did not like His
    Prophet to have the luxuries of this world. So I prefer to live in the manner which Allâh
    preferred for His Prophet than to live a life which He disliked for him.”
    Ibn Abi’d-Dunyâ said: “It was narrated to me that some scholars said: ‘The scholar
    should praise Allâh for having deprived him of the luxuries of this life, in the same way
    that he should praise Him for what He has bestowed upon him. How can you compare the
    blessings and luxuries for which he will be accountable to the deprivation of luxuries
    which is a relief from being tested, and which keeps his mind free to worship and
    remember Allâh? So he should give thanks to Allâh for all of that.’”
    It has been said: “Gratitude is giving up wrong action.” Ibn alMubârak said: “Sufyân
    said: ‘He does not understand religion properly who does not count affliction as a
    blessing and ease as a disaster.’”
    Gratitude of different faculties
    A man said to Abû Hâzim: “What is the gratitude of the eyes?” He said, “If you see good
    things, you speak about them, and if you see bad things, you keep quiet about it.” He
    asked, “What is the gratitude of the ears?” He said, “If you hear something good, you
    accept it, and if you hear something bad, you reject it.” Then he asked, “What is the
    gratitude of the hands?” He said, “Do not take what which does not belong to you, and do
    not hold back from paying the dues of Allâh (zakât).” Then he asked, “What is the
    gratitude of the head?” He said: “To have knowledge in it.” Then he asked, “What is the
    gratitude of one’s private parts?” He quoted: “‘Who guard their private parts, except
    from those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right
    hands possess – for (in their case) they are free from blame, but those whose desires
    exceed those limits are transgressors’” (al-Mu’minûn 23:5-7).
    As for those who only pay lip-service to gratitude, and do not give thanks with the rest of
    their faculties, are concerned, they are like a man who has a garment and all he does with
    it is touch it, but he does not put it on: it will never protect him from heat, cold, snow or
    Prostration of gratitude
    When the Messenger of Allâh (SAAS) used to receive good news, he would prostrate
    himself (sujûd) and give thanks to Allâh. Abdu’r-Rahmân ibn ‘Awf (RA) narrated: “The
    Prophet (SAAS) entered upon us in the mosque, stood facing the qiblah, then prostrated
    himself and remained in sujûd for a long time. I said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allâh, you
    prostrated yourself for such a long time that we thought Allâh had taken your soul.’ He
    said: ‘Jibrîl came to me with good news. He told me: “Allâh says, ‘Whoever sends
    blessings on you, I will send sixty blessings on him in return, and whoever salutes you,
    I will salute him in return,’ so I prostrated myself and gave thanks to Allâh.’” (Ahmad)
    Sa‘îd ibn Mansûr narrated that Abû Bakr (RA) prostrated himself when he heard the
    news that Musaylimah had been killed, and Ka‘b ibn Mâlik (RA) prostrated himself when
    the Prophet (SAAS) told him the good news that Allâh had forgiven him.
    All the good deeds of man cannot pay for one blessing of Allâh
    A worshipper worshipped Allâh for fifty years, so Allâh told him that He had forgiven
    him. The man said, “O Allâh, what is there to forgive when I have not committed a
    wrong action?” So Allâh caused a nerve in his neck to give him pain, so he could not
    sleep or pray. When the pain eased and he was able to sleep, an angel came to him, so he
    complained to the angel of the pain he had suffered. The angel told him: “Your Lord says
    to you that your fifty years of worship is to pay for the soothing of your pain.”
    Ibn Abi’d-Dunyâ mentioned that Dâwûd (AS) asked Allâh: “What is the least of Your
    blessings?” Allâh revealed to him: “O Dâwûd, take a breath.” Dâwûd did so, and Allâh
    told him: “This is the least of My blessings on you.”
    From this we may understand the meaning of the hadîth which was narrated by Ziyâd ibn
    Thâbit and Ibn ‘Abbâs (RA): “If Allâh was to punish the people of heaven and earth, He
    would have done that without being unjust towards them, and if He were to have mercy
    on them, His Mercy would be far better for them than their deeds.” (Abû Dâwûd)
    In a sahîh hadîth the Messenger of Allâh (SAAS) said: “No one will attain salvation by
    virtue of his deeds.” The people asked, “Not even you, O Messenger of Allâh?” He said,
    “Not even me, unless Allâh covers me with His mercy and blessings.” The deeds of a
    man cannot pay for even one of the many blessings of Allâh, because even the smallest of
    Allâh’s blessings and favours far outweigh the deeds of man. So we must always bear in
    mind the rights which Allâh has over us.

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