10 Steps to a Grateful Life as Taught by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

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So Grateful!

10 Steps to A Grateful Life

as Taught by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits


Gratitude has an amazing power to free your mind from turmoil. It helps you feel closer to those you love. And to forgive those that you feel conflict with.

Gratitude can make old possessions seem like new. It can make a bad day feel like a blessing. And it can help us rediscover our own innate beauty and perfection.

Gratitude can do all this because practicing it helps us let go of expectations and embrace the present moment.

I recently had the chance to attend a webinar hosted by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and his friend Dirk as part of his Sea Change program. During this webinar, Leo talked about why gratitude was so powerful and offered some simple tips for being more grateful.

No Expectations

Leo noted that gratitude is powerful because it helps us let go of our expectations.

Let’s say you have a dear friend, but you have allot of expectations about how that friend should act and respond to you. Sometimes this friend won’t act the way you expect and so you will often be thinking, “This isn’t a good friend.”

Then imagine that you let go of all these expectations. Now instead of being disappointed, you can just enjoy your friend for who they are. Instead of ‘shoulding’, others we can just practice gratitude for where people are at.

No Comparison

In a similar way Leo points out that gratitude can also free us from comparison.

If you compare yourself to others, you can always find someone who seems to be better off. No matter what measure you use there is always someone with more mindfulness, a more beautiful home, and a more satisfying job.

Often this reality can make us feel bad about ourselves. But gratitude relieves us of the expectation that we should be like other people. And it helps us appreciate where we are right now.


Next Leo offered some simple way to practice gratitude everyday. I’ve also included some of the things I’ve learned about practicing gratitude this month.

1. Be Grateful Morning and Night 


Every morning write down 3 things you are grateful for. I use Evernote to keep my gratitude journal, but you can use any text program or an old notebook.

I also keep a running tally of my entries and review them after every 50th entry. I find this helps me connect with how abundant my life is and keeps encouraging me to practice gratitude on a daily basis.


Every evening share 3 good things about your day. You can share with your significant other, a child, or a family member. Or you can email them to a friend or post them on Facebook.
I also record one of those events each day in a journal. I find that reflecting on a good event from the previous day, helps me have hope that something good will happen again today.

2. Be Grateful For Food

Before each meal I say a short blessing as a way of expressing gratitude.

But Leo notes we can also express gratitude to the people who cooked our food, or sold us our food, or grew our food. We can express gratitude by eating mindfully. And in turn, mindful eating can make us more grateful.

There is a wonderful exercise called looking deeply into your food that is designed to help you do just this. You can find it here.

3. Be Grateful For People 

Before meeting someone we can express internal gratitude for the meeting.

Then while we are meeting instead of trying to convince the other person that you are right. Or just waiting for your turn to talk. We can simply feel grateful for the interaction

Then at the end of a meeting, we can express gratitude in words and later with a quick note or email. Doing this will not only make us more likeable, but will also help us get the most out of being with others.

4. Be Grateful For Challenging People 

Instead of focusing on someone’s faults we can be grateful for their strengths. If we think someone is too chatty, we can be grateful that they want to connect. If we think someone is pushy, we can be grateful that they value action.

If that doesn’t work, we can still try to empathize before we judge them. We can try to understand where they are coming from and be grateful for their perspective.
Even if we decide to limit interaction with a difficult person, we can find gratitude. We can be grateful for the clarity we have that we don’t want to act like this. We can be grateful for knowing that this person isn’t good for us to be around.

5. Be Grateful For Exercise

Exercise can be challenging especially when we get started. But Leo says we can transform that struggle with gratitude. Instead of complaining about exercise, we can try to be grateful that we can move and be active.

In addition, I often encourage my clients to focus on what they can do, instead of what they can’t. For every athlete we see on TV there are a hundred people who don’t even walk a few times a week. Just setting the intention to get more exercise puts you ahead of the curve.

6. Be Grateful For Meditation

Meditation is a wonderful gift we can give ourselves. Even if your mind seems unruly that we can be grateful that we can sit.

We can also be grateful that we have the time to practice. We can be grateful that we found a meditation. And we can be grateful for our intention to find clarity.

7. Be Grateful At Work

At the beginning and end of your day you can express gratitude that you have a job, when so many other people do not.

Email can be annoying, but instead of opening your inbox with dread. Try expressing gratitude that someone emailed you.

Express gratitude to your co-workers or employees by sending one email a day telling them why they rock.

I try to do this each morning. And even though I don’t have co-workers, I find that sending a nice email to a friend or colleague helps me be more kind throughout my day.

8. Be Grateful While Driving

Whenever you drive you can be grateful you have a car. (Or if you’re like me, you can be grateful that you have a bike instead of a car.)

While you are driving, you can be grateful that you have somewhere to go, someone to meet, and the ability to get there.

When you are in traffic, you can be grateful that you are part of such a vibrant productive society. You might even try saying, “We’re all in this together.”

9. Be Grateful During Hard Times

One of the hardest times to be grateful is when you are going through something difficult. For example is someone you know is ill and/or dying.

Even then, gratitude is a great gift to share. You can be grateful for all the time you have spent with them. You can share that gratitude with them and also express it to yourself.

You can be grateful that you can be with them while they are sick. Being present for someone else in pain is such a blessing.

Other times gratitude is hard because we are suffering ourselves, either from illness or sadness. In either case, you can be grateful for the lessons that this challenge is teaching you.

You can be grateful that others are willing to be there with you. You can be grateful that challenge helps you appreciate the good times more. You can be grateful that you are facing this challenge instead of someone else.

10. Be Grateful By Remembering

One key to being grateful is remembering to practice gratitude. Leo recommends 3 ways to ensure help you remember.

  1. Write down what you want to remember to be grateful for. Paying special attention to things you often take for granted.
  2. Make a commitment to someone else to practice gratitude.
  3. When gratitude is hard, imagine losing the things you care about and then imagine them coming back to you.

Imagine you lost your family, friends, shelter, food, possessions, computer, and/or the Internet. Feel the weight of that loss and then feel the joy as these things return to your life.

Gratitude Meditation

At the end of webinar, Leo offered a simple meditation that you can practice almost anywhere. This meditation will help you focus on gratitude and it can give you the energy to carry this gratitude into the day.
First, find a comfortable spot and check in to your body. If it is safe and it’s your practice to do so, close your eyes. Ask yourself how am I feeling?
Notice the answer and then just appreciate your body. Make sure to express appreciation especially for any part of your body that complaining.
Next, notice your breath. Watch as it comes in and out. Ask what qualities does my breath have.
Notice the answer and then just appreciate these qualities no matter what they are.

Next, silently repeat these phrases in your mind.
May I be happy.
May my loved ones be happy.
May my acquaintances, my colleagues, and my work friends be happy.
May the people who give me agitation and even my enemies be happy.
May the entire world be happy.
Then pause and repeat.

You can repeat this meditation as many time as you want to  and can modify it to fit your needs. If any of the phrases is too hard for you to say just leave them out with one exception. Always begin with the phrase, “May I be happy.” It may seem selfish, but without joy in our hearts, we cannot truly offer joy to others.