Gratitude has been front and center in my mind for several months. It kept popping in to my consciousness even as I was involved in other seemingly unrelated activities. Gratitude would come up as I was listening to a nutrition podcast or reading a biography. It was demanding my attention. I took notice and now make space for practicing gratitude each day. I incorporate it into my daily rituals, and look forward to it as I drink that first sip of coffee each morning or fluff the pillow before drifting off each night. I can honestly say that it has been an enjoyable pursuit.
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What does it mean to practice gratitude?
I consider the definition of gratitude to be quite broad. Beyond saying thank you, gratitude is many things. In addition to being an emotion, it is a value. Gratitude is developing a sense of wonder, of savoring special moments (big and small). Gratitude is not taking things for granted and looking for a learning moment in a setback. It keeps us in the present moment. When I’m grounded in appreciation, life feels more abundant. I think of gratitude as a gentle form of motivation, free of judgment. My favorite aspect of gratitude is that it crowds out fear, which opens up new ways of thinking and being in the world.
Does it really make a difference?
Gratitude and its far reaching benefits have been widely studied. Research shows, again and again, that people who practice gratitude experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, build stronger relationships, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness and (this one blows my mind) even develop stronger immune systems!! In addition, optimism lowers cortisol and releases pleasure inducing neurotransmitters. As gratitude becomes a habit, you will develop new thought patterns. These are all great reasons to give gratitude a try!
Ways to incorporate gratitude
- Keep a Gratitude Journal– Be specific, you can even make a game out of noticing.
- Fill a Gratitude Jar– Write down what you are grateful for on slips of paper, roll them up and place them in the jar. Then read them back at the end of the year or when you need a mood booster.
- Give compliments genuinely– Don’t hold back!
- Accept compliments graciously– Try to see yourself as others do, this will benefit the giver and receiver.
- Send a thank you note– If you’re short on time, take a moment to mentally thank someone.
- Reflect on your good deeds– Take note of a time when you were thoughtful, kind, helpful, forgiving or overcame a challenge.
- Pay it forward– Volunteer, donate, cook for someone, shop where your values are shared, etc.
- Join or start a gratefulness group– I got the idea from this website: http://gratefulness.org/connect/gratefulness-groups/
- Download an app– There are quite a few to choose from, but here are three that I tested.
- Happier- This one sends reminders, happiness quotes and offers a community to share in your positivity. It is free to use.
- Grid Diary- Here you can write using a variety of prompts and customize your grid. It is free initially but costs $4.99 if you want to incorporate more than 5 photos which, trust me, you will want to do.
- Gratitude!- This is the one I chose. It costs $2.99 which gives access to all of the features. While using the app a collage of your photos flash across the screen, reminding you of past entries. It even sends me 3 reminders a day (you can customize this)!
Tips for Daily Practice
Pair your gratitude practice with things you do every day– For example, pause to reflect as you enter your home, when your alarm goes off, before you close your eyes to sleep, or before a family meal.
Keep it fresh– The more specific the better. Generalities like gratitude for family can get stale over time but something specific like family popcorn night holds more meaning.
Gratitude can be cultivated– As you take time out to notice, you will begin to notice that you have more to be grateful for. New patterns will form that lead to an increase in positive emotions.
Raising grateful children
When we are grateful, we are inspired to pay it forward. Grateful kids are happier and more apt to share. Additionally, children who experience real gratitude are less envious and more likely to have higher GPAs. Gratitude is associated with competence, autonomy, and positive relationships.
Dr. Jeffery Froh, a psychology professor at Hofstra and coauthor of Making Grateful Kids, studies the widespread effects that gratitude has on children. He gives these suggestions
- Watch your language- keep it positive
- Explain why you are grateful, don’t just model- show/share
- It’s not about stuff- include special moments such as a beautiful sunrise or shared laugh
Call to Action: In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky writes that 40% of happiness is found in intentional activity (our habits, behavior and thought patterns). So tell me… how do you incorporate gratitude into your life?
The Science of Gratitude A 59 minute soundtrack narrated by Susan Sarandon
The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D.
Loving What Is by Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell
Emmons, R. A. (2007). THANKS! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Sansone RA, et al. “Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,” Psychiatry (Nov. 2010): Vol. 7, No. 11, pp. 18–22.
Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist (July–Aug. 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21.