There are many studies proving that practicing gratitude does amazing things for our emotional and physical well being and is one of the easiest and most direct routes to happiness.
When we’re caught up in the busyness of our lives, it’s easy to forget sometimes that we have so much to be grateful for. We’re more likely to think about the things we don’t have and to dwell on what’s not going right in our lives. We think we’ll be happy when we get the job or car we want, or other things that are in the future, when the things that are most meaningful are here now.
Practicing gratitude has worked for me. After I shifted my mindset and became grateful for what I had, instead of being unhappy about the things I didn’t have, my attitude and health turned around, and positive things started happening to me.
The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles. ~William Penn
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation or thanks for what you have. It’s associated with less frequent negative emotions and thoughts and more frequent positive emotions and thoughts. Gratitude expert Robert Emmons of UC Davis defines it as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.”
A Few Benefits of Gratitude
Research by positive psychologists shows that cultivating gratitude has many positive effects, such as:
- Less stress
- Improved psychological and mental health
- Better self esteem
- Less depression
- Improved sleep
- Enhanced empathy and less aggression
It’s hard to feel stressed and anxious when you’re feeling grateful. When we feel gratitude, we release the feel-good neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, seratonin and dopamine. It takes us out of the stress response (“fight or flight”) so we’re making less cortisol, the damaging stress hormone.
Practicing gratitude regularly can actually form new neural pathways in the brain, so it’s like a muscle that needs to be worked regularly at the gym. It’s a practice that will change the way we see life, and the more we do it, the more things will start to show up to be grateful for.
6 Ways to Practice Gratitude
1. Write in a Gratitude Journal Every Day
One of the fathers of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman, recommends the following: in the evening, write down in a journal three things that happened that day that you are most happy about and why they happened. If this sounds too much for you, this study found that once a week was better than three times a week, possibly because people found more than that was a chore. “Mom” was the top choice people were grateful for in this study.
Others recommend a morning journaling ritual, where you come up with as many as ten things you’re grateful for, which can be anything; for example, your family, a person who did something nice for you, the sun is shining, your comfortable bed, all the things your body does for you, etc. Try to vary it so you’re not writing the same things every day.
2. Feel Gratitude
If writing in a journal isn’t your thing, there are benefits from just thinking about things you’re grateful for. For example, before you get out of bed in the morning, take a few minutes to think about the things you’re grateful for (this is what I do). You could do it as part of your meditation practice, or if you need help coming up with things and are interested in trying a guided gratitude meditation, there are tons of free scripts and videos available online.
However, it’s better to FEEL appreciation and gratitude rather than just thinking it, as emotions are stronger than thoughts. According to Dr. Srikumer Rao, feeling gratitude resonates in the very fiber of your being and it’s what makes transformation possible. Feel gratitude many times a day and make it your way of being.
3. Share Gratitude with Others
Some people like to have a dinnertime ritual with their families where they talk about what went well in everyone’s day and what each is grateful for. This practice may help you to think of things you’re grateful for during the day because you know you’ll be sharing them later.
4. Slow Down and Be Mindful
Take a few minutes when you can during the day to take a break from all the hustle and bustle and distractions, such as your cell phone, to experience some silence. It’s hard to be grateful when your mind is busy all the time. Pay attention to your surroundings or get out in nature and appreciate the beauty around you.
5. Write a Gratitude Letter
Write a gratitude letter to someone who’s been especially kind to you at some point in your life (like a teacher or friend) and tell them what they did for you and how it contributed to where you are now. A study showed that people who spent fifteen minutes once a week (over eight weeks) writing letters of gratitude became much happier during and after the study. You don’t even need to send it.
6. Change Your Perception – Find the Silver Lining in Things
It’s how you perceive something that makes it good or bad. Try to find gratitude even in things you don’t like. The next time something negative happens, look at the bright side and be grateful that it wasn’t worse; think about whether you can learn from it. Try this daily practice.
Energy is Contagious
When you’re happy and show your appreciation to others, you’ll give off positive energy and elevate the mood of everyone around you. It will have a ripple effect and you’ll be helping to make the world a better place. You just need to make it a daily habit. Try it and see.
Gratitude opens the door to…the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe. You open the door through gratitude. ~ Deepak Chopra