We are coming to that time of year when we all start to give a bit more thought to the people and things that we are thankful for. It isn’t that most of us aren’t grateful year-round, it is just that between Thanksgiving, the holiday season and the New Year, we are presented with multiple opportunities to look at what we have, and express our appreciation as one year comes to an end and a new cycle begins.
But, what if we were to make a point of expressing gratitude regularly, year-round? Research has been looking at what happens to our physical and emotional health when we regularly take the time to just simply express a little gratitude. What we are discovering is that the benefits of practicing gratitude are practically endless, and that is something to be grateful for!
7 Benefits of Practicing Daily Gratitude
Seven benefits don’t really even begin to touch on all the ways that expressing gratitude can improve your life. But, science says we can remember seven bits of information at a time, and we have to start somewhere, so why not with this magic number?
Become Grateful for a Good Night’s Sleep. Having trouble falling asleep, or feel like you just aren’t getting quality ZZZs? Taking a few minutes to think about or write down a few things you are grateful for has been shown to lead to better sleep patterns. Expressing gratitude in this simple ritual helps to put your mind on the positive rather than all those nagging worries and to-do lists that can keep you awake at night.
Gratitude Will Help You See Your Doctor Less. It has been known that regular gratitude practice helps to keep your immune system functioning in tip-top shape, but new research points to a bigger, positive impact on your health. Gratitude has been linked to hormone regulation, reduced blood pressure and even improved kidney function. Some experts suggest that people who practice the art of being grateful on a regular basis are more likely to appreciate and take care of their bodies and their health, and as a result, more likely to keep preventative doctor visits and take better care of their health.
You Can Skip the Line at the Coffee Shop Each Morning. One small study that looked specifically at gratitude journaling compared a control group of people who journaled daily, but not necessarily focused on gratitude, with a group that took a few minutes to jot down all their reasons to be grateful in a journal dedicated to gratitude.
What did they find out? The gratitude participants had more energy and reported an overall increase in feelings of vitality. The next time you are in a rush out the door and don’t know if you will have time to grab your caffeine fix, try a little gratitude instead.
Gratitude Helps You Lighten Up. Grateful people are more likely to behave kindly and express empathy towards others. Approaching life from this perspective prevents at least some of the daily grind from taking a toll on your nerves. Not only is this good for your stress levels, but for others as well. Stress, tension and anxiety are all contagious.
Want Happier Memories? Be grateful for them. Have you ever wondered how two people who experience the exact same thing can remember it completely differently? The reason is we have a part in creating our own memories. People who express gratitude regularly tend to put a more positive spin on their memories, even those that might not be so pleasant.
Develop More Fulfilling and Meaningful Relationships. It turns out that there is a key to happier relationships, and it involves being thankful for the people in your life. Most of us are good at expressing gratitude for obvious acts, but what about the day-to-day happenings that often get taken for granted?
A regular gratitude practice can help you recognize these small acts of kindness, which ups the chances that you will let your gratitude be known. This not only helps you realize how important these people are in your lives, it lets them know too. People who are in relationships with a strong foundation of mutual respect and appreciation find it easier to get through the unavoidable tough spots together.
It’s All About Happiness. When you put these things together, what do you get? I see the makings of a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life. An interesting study looked at the after effects of regular gratitude practice. What they discovered was that six months after participants practiced daily gratitude for just three weeks, they still reported feeling 25% happier than those who did not practice gratitude.
It could be that once you learn how to be appreciative for the big and the small, the good things and the difficult learning experiences, you develop a lifelong habit that is hard to turn off. Expressing gratitude today can lead to happier tomorrows.
Does all of this have you feeling inspired? Wonder how you can fit one more thing into your already busy schedule? Developing a regular gratitude practice takes little in terms of time or energy. In fact, to get the most from your gratitude practice, the focus should be on the quality rather than quantity. What I mean by this is that it is more beneficial to spend a few minutes being deeply grateful for one or two things than it is to spend twenty minutes trying to come up with a lengthy list of things to be grateful for.
While you can practice daily gratitude in any way that feels comfortable and natural for you, many people find success using one of two methods; journaling and meditation.
Journals Full of Gratitude
Interested in starting a gratitude journal? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Remember, unless you want to share, whatever you put into your journal is for you and you alone. You are not looking to impress here, so if you want to be grateful for something that someone else might find too trivial or insignificant, just write it down. Being thankful for the small things leads to a life filled with gratitude.
- Use your journal in the way that feel most natural. Many offer the advice to write down a certain number of things to be grateful for every day. My thought is to not put limits or expectations on yourself. It can begin to feel like a chore if you have to sit and come up with ten things to be grateful for every night. List-based journals are often the first to get abandoned. Instead, just write down what feels natural. Give it thought, but don’t force it. The more often you do this, the more things will come to you. Also, be as straightforward or elaborate as you want to be. Do you like the idea of quickly jotting down a few things in list form? Then do it. Would you rather write a paragraph about one person or thing? Then do that. There is no wrong way to journal, except not doing what feels right to you.
- Journal consistently, but don’t burden yourself with it. Is a nightly journal entry too much for you? You are more likely to give up the idea altogether if you put expectations on yourself that aren’t realistic. Instead aim for once or twice a week. The idea is consistency over frequency. This is the best way to build new, positive habits.
- Use your gratitude journal as a place to work out your emotions. Are you going through a particularly rough time in your life, and know that a change in perspective could make a big difference in how the outcome affects you, but just don’t know how to get there? Your gratitude journal can be more than a place to write down the things you are already grateful for, it can also be a place to help guide you along the path to gratitude when you just aren’t there yet. Don’t be afraid to write down your feelings and work through your emotions even if you are not in the place to embrace gratitude just yet.
Gratitude Meditations, Mindfulness and Other Ways to Build Practice Daily
Not everyone likes the idea of taking pen to paper and writing every night. There are plenty of other ways to develop a daily gratitude practice. Here are just a few.
- Gratitude Meditations. You can find scripted gratitude meditations online, or you can create one yourself. Most involve just sitting quietly for a few minutes, clearing your mind of all negative thoughts and sending energies of love and gratitude out into the world.
- Mindfulness focuses on the art of being present in the here and now. As things happen to you throughout the day, ask yourself how you can be thankful, here in the moment. Keep opportunities to be grateful at the front of your mind.
- Gratitude Jar. As you think of something to be grateful for, write it down and put it in a jar. Make a weekly practice of opening the jar and rereading all your contributions. This is a great activity for a family too.
- Notes of Gratitude. Leave notes for other people telling them why you love them or are thankful to have them in your life.
- Basket of Gratitude Prompts. Write down gratitude prompts such as “2 people that made my life easier today,” “5 things in my home I am grateful for right now,” “2 difficult past situations that I am grateful for because they provided the opportunity for me to grow,” “3 things I see when I look out the window that I am grateful for”, etc. Place them in a basket, bowl or jar and pick one every day.
Each and every one of us can cultivate and grow gratitude in our lives. It is as easy as slowing down, and taking the time to appreciate both the little and big things that make a difference in our lives. Start your gratitude practice today, and begin living your most fulfilling life.