Research shows that a regular practice of gratitude has a strong positive effect on one’s mental, emotional and physical health. However, if you struggle with depression, anxiety, health issues, and/or loneliness, the desire to practice gratitude may not be high on your radar. But, gratitude may be exactly what’s needed to help lessen the intensity of these emotions and to shift overall perspective.
The Benefits of a Gratitude Practice
Dr. Robert Emmons, leading gratitude researcher and author of the book Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, basically studies how ‘wanting what we have’ can change people’s lives for the better. Emmons states in his research that a regular gratitude practice is “associated with better physical and psychological health, increased happiness and life satisfaction.” Basically, grateful people are more stress-resilient, have a better sense of their overall self-worth, and cultivate stronger social connections. Since you can’t be critical, envious, or angry and grateful at the same time, cultivating a gratitude practice allows for not only a different relationship with oneself but also enhances relationships with others.
Definition of Gratitude
So, what exactly IS gratitude and how does one practice it so that the benefits are actualized? According to Emmons, gratitude is a two-step process and includes:
- recognizing that there is a positive experience
- recognizing that there is an external source for this positive experience
Sounds simple, right? But, if it’s so simple why doesn’t everyone regularly practice gratitude? Emmons claims in his research that there are personality barriers to practicing gratitude, such as envy, materialism, and cynicism. These personality characteristics tend to produce a cup-half-empty lens, which hinders the desire to practice gratitude in the first place and perpetuates the resistance for behaving differently. The good news is that we can change our personality defaults despite how ingrained our self-defeating tendencies have become.
How to Start
The key is to engage in a gratitude practice that appeals to YOU. If a certain approach is cringe-inducing, the practice will fall off your radar, so below are some ideas to help get you started:
- Morning and/or Evening Gratitude Journal
Taking a few moments to reflect on what you are grateful for at the start and/or end of your day helps to either set the tone for your day or to end the day on a high note. You can also bookend your days with this gratitude practice even if it’s just focusing on one thing. This practice helps one to shift from a perception of lack to a perception of gratitude and abundance.
- Gratitude Letter
Write a letter to someone who has had a positive influence in your life. This person can be a teacher or mentor from your past, a family member, a friend, or even a colleague. This letter can be long and detailed or short sweet. Your call.
- Thankful Gathering
This exercise can be done before say, a Sunday family dinner, or is a great option for Thanksgiving. Have each person write down something they are grateful for and share then take turns sharing the group. This ritual can be a great way to learn more about our loved ones and what positively impacts them as well spark some interesting dialogue for the meal.
- Three Questions
This one is my personal favorite and is a great practice to do at the end of the day. Ask yourself the following questions and journal or reflect on your answers:
- What touched me today?
- Who or what inspired me today?
- What made me smile today?
If you find yourself in the middle of a challenging life situation, instead of only wishing that things were different, try shifting your attention to focusing on what you DO have and on what you are currently grateful for in your life. If you find that you need additional help and support or need help getting back on track, our LivingWell program is designed to help you during this time. Your health and happiness are waiting.