Gratitude fascinates me. It’s one of my favorite topics to research and something which I work hard to cultivate. It’s why I love Thanksgiving — and the entire month of November — because this is the time of year when we deliberately and collectively put gratitude front and center.
But gratitude can be elusive, and daily gratitude is often shoved aside by the daily grind.
“Gratitude is a practice, or a discipline, so even if it doesn’t come naturally, people can develop the skill,” says Robert Emmons, leading scientific expert on gratitude and professor of psychology at University of California, Davis.
“Gratitude is a choice,” Emmons continues in a post for Livescience. We can choose to be grateful even when our emotions are steeped in hurt and resentment, or we would prefer our current life circumstances to be different.”
Gratitude is good for you, mind, body and spirit. Here are some of my favorite reasons for cultivating gratitude:
- Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.
- Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions.
- Grateful people are more resistant to stress.
- Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth.
- Gratitude can strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure,and promote better sleep.
- Grateful people feel higher levels of positive emotions, including joy, optimism, compassion, generosity.
- Gratitude decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Which all sounds fantastic. But is it easier said than done?
Five Easy Ways to Practice Gratitude:
Even though you may be knee-deep in holiday preparations, you can up your gratitude game immediately with one or two of these quick, easy ideas.
1. Keep a gratitude journal
Probably you’ve heard this one before, as it seems to be the most popular suggestion on raising one’s gratitude level. (Which means there must be something to it!) I have started and stopped this practice for years and have finally settled on an app on my phone. I love the daily reminders and the ease of which I can quickly jot down, or insert a photo, of things which made me happy.
2. Count your blessings on a regular basis
You don’t even have to write them down, but set a regular time to deliberately name your blessings (first thing in the morning, at night before going to sleep). This is a quick way to train your brain to recognize simple joys and blessings.
3. The two-minute write
“Studies have shown that women who write about positive experiences were 40 percent more likely to live to age 94 than their negative peers,” writes happiness expert Shawn Achor for LiveHappy.
He suggests that we set aside two minutes a day to write in detail about one positive event from the past day. “As our brains can’t tell much difference between visualization and actual experience, by rehashing a high point in the day you double the effect of that positive experience. Overall, this leads to greater life satisfaction and meaning.”
In the course of a day, we are likely surrounded by wonderfulness that we have simply gotten used to. This is due to something known as “hedonic adaptation” — basically, we get used to positive, pleasurable things and for this reason, stop appreciating them. But there is much benefit to just paying attention — being mindful of — the small good things that are happening around you.
You can kick-start this practice with a savoring walk: walk by yourself for 20 minutes a week, using your senses to notice everything around you. Try to take a different path each time. Research shows that happiness levels (and thus gratitude in my experience) are increased after just one week.
5. Write a thank you letter (or even just an email!)
It sounds so basic but simply saying thank you to others has a powerful effect on our own gratitude.
Achor suggests sending an email to someone first thing in the morning after opening your inbox. Take a couple of minutes to write to a friend, family member, teacher, etc and thank them for what they mean to you.
Or, go a little further: write a thank you letter to someone in your life, detailing why you are grateful for them, and then mail it (or better yet, read it to them in person.)
This social connection is plays a strong role in our happiness, and even our longevity.
As I finish up this post and prepare to hit the publish button, in just writing about gratitude I feel happy and thankful. In this season of Thanksgiving, I wish you joy, thankfulness, and the hope that your gratitude practice (and mine too!) remain with you all the year through.