Sometimes gratitude is a little like eating our vegetables: we all know it’s good for us (and our happiness), and we should definitely do it on a daily basis… but how often do we actually do it?

I am guilty of this too–of being a little too busy or a little too lazy to practice gratefulness. We end up in the unfortunate habit of taking the amazing things in our lives for granted and we forget to be grateful.

Well, we are about to change that! A gratitude totem is our easy way of making gratitude an applicable, everyday practice that will be easy to incorporate into everyone’s busy lives. I call it:

A Gratitude Totem

Before we get to pick our gratitude totem, what is a totem?

Totem (n): A totem is a symbol, reminder or representation that serves as an emblem. It helps to remind the user of an idea, memory or behavior.

So a totem is a symbol that reminds us of something else. In our case, it is a symbol of the importance of gratitude. It is my hope that your totem will remind you of everything to be grateful in the moment.

Gratitude Totem

How Does it Work?

Simple: pick an object, process or person you see often (preferably everyday, but we’ll get there–baby steps). Whether it be fresh flowers on your desk, tying your shoes or seeing your sweet dog, whatever you pick will be your new gratitude totem. Whenever you see that object or person, or complete whichever process you pick, stop and think about what you’re grateful for.

For me, I converted something that frustrated me into something I use as my gratitude totem: an absurdly long red light near my house that I somehow always hit. Instead of letting this red light annoy me and potentially ruin my good mood, I decided to change that. Now, whenever I’m stopped at this light-sometimes even multiple times a day-I take that time to think of all the things I’m grateful for:

  • I am so grateful for living in the most beautiful and amazing city–Portland, Oregon.
  • I am so grateful for waking up healthy.
  • I am so grateful for my incredible husband, Scott!

No matter how simple or how grand, there are so many things to be grateful for and appreciate in our lives, every single day.

Totem Ideas

It can be difficult at first to pick your totem, but don’t overthink it. Here are some examples you could implement in your life:

  1. Objects
    • Morning coffee or tea
    • Flowers/plants around the house or office
  2. Processes
    • My red light
    • Walking the dog
  3. Times
    • 11:11am
    • Leaving the office at the end of the workday
  4. People
    • Kissing your partner hello/goodbye/just because
    • Your best friend’s text sound

My challenge to you now is to pick your gratitude totem and tell me what you’re grateful for! I can’t wait to hear from all of you:

Don’t take your surroundings for granted. Be present in the moment.

I’m grateful for you taking the time to join me in practicing gratitude today.

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and human behavioral investigator in our lab.

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