"When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out, and the tide of love rushes in." – Kristin Armstong
Changing the way we think can have a profound effect on how we feel and our overall well-being. Gratitude works by engaging positive emotions that have direct physical benefits on our health and alter the way we perceive and interpret life.
When people are grateful, it helps them to connect with something bigger than themselves, whether it be people, nature, or a higher power. Research shows that practicing gratitude is associated with higher levels of happiness. Gratitude helps people to feel good about themselves, have greater emotional experiences, improve their health, and build stronger relationships. There are some benefits of gratitude you may not have considered, too.
Benefits of Gratitude
Did you know that partners who express gratitude toward their partners may lead to behaviors that support strengthening and maintaining of the relationship?
Practicing gratitude may also be good for your social life. Not only is it polite, but showing appreciation has been proven to help foster a wider social circle. So, the next time a stranger holds the door open for you or your coworker does you a favor, thank them! You may just make a new friend in the process.
Improves physical health
Not only are grateful people more likely to exercise and take care of their physical body, but it has been found that they experience less aches and pains, too. Even more impressive, studies have shown that gratitude can decrease blood pressure, heighten our immune systems to fight disease, and decrease cortisol.
Improves mental health
Simply taking a moment to acknowledge what you’re grateful for is a powerful practice. It turns out that it may help reduce symptoms of depression and improve your overall mood. The area in the brain associated with gratitude is also part of neural networks activated when we experience pleasure. That region is additionally connected to the location of the brain that controls basic emotional regulation, such as heart rate and arousal levels. It’s associated with stress relief and pain. By practicing gratitude, you can lower stress levels and flood your body with feel-good chemicals.
Cultivating a gratitude practice may help improve sleep quality and increase sleep duration. Sleep is one of the cornerstones of health, so having an effective nighttime routine and proper sleep hygiene are crucial. Try making it a nightly ritual to write in a gratitude journal for a few minutes before bed.
Eight Ways to Practice Gratitude Every Day
Psychologist, professor, and author, Dr. Robert Emmons, reports there are two key aspects of practicing gratitude. First, we believe in the good things we receive. Second, we acknowledge others for the greatness they bring into our lives.
Building the gratitude muscle is easy to do but takes a little practice to master. By being more aware of what we are grateful for, we can find more reasons to be thankful. Pay attention to our day-to-day interactions. Do these interactions stress you? How do you express thanks daily? Are you taking time to appreciate saying or receiving a thank you? How does your body feel?
Next, choose a daily exchange and be present during that time. Instead of saying “thank you” absentmindedly, name what you are grateful for during that interaction. Go beyond the current situation and really give thanks. Before you know it, gratitude will start appearing more frequently in your life.
1. Keep a gratitude journal
When it comes to journaling, there is no right or wrong way to do it. The key is to be in the moment and enjoy the feelings associated with those thoughts. Writing them down allows you to spend time – at the end of each week, month, season, or year – reflecting on all the things you were thankful for.
To start, write down five things you are grateful for upon rising. It can be as small as loving your nail polish or as big as having a successful surgery.
Here are five prompts to get you started:
- What are you grateful for?
- Who are you grateful for?
- What achievement are you grateful for?
- When was a time you laughed hysterically, and how did you feel?
- What is your favorite season, and why are you grateful for it?
2. Write a thank you note
Appreciation and acknowledgment go a long way. Whether on the giving or receiving end, you can have a greater impact than you ever anticipated.
3. Meditate on what you’re grateful for
Practicing meditation is an effective way to practice gratitude. This is your moment to show gratitude for yourself and bring the mindfulness that you’ve cultivated into the next action of your day. Perhaps that action is enjoying your first sips of morning coffee, noticing the sun shining through your window, or mindfully stepping into your clothes for the day.
Meditations expressing gratitude can be done in ten minutes or less. This mindfulness exercise from Harvard University has four components: Sit, Focus, Expand, and Embrace.
- Find a comfortable spot where you can be alone
- Sit comfortably or lie down, whichever way you feel supported most
- Close your eyes and take deep breaths to center back into the present
- Once centered, expand your focus to experience any sounds, feelings, or ideas
- Scan the body and embrace each thought that comes in without any judgment
4. Spend quality time with loved ones
Enjoying the company of friends and family can sometimes be stressful (think holiday gatherings!) but don’t forget to reflect on the fact that you can spend time with them. Soak up the good moments and memories!
5. Spend time in nature
Spending time outdoors isn’t just a good opportunity to soak up vitamin D, it’s a perfect time to practice gratitude. Look at the beauty that surrounds you, soak up the sounds of the outdoors. Spending time outdoors has physical and mental health benefits as well.
6. Volunteer your time to help others
Whether it helps your local community or the community at large, volunteering your time makes a difference in someone’s life.
7. Commit to a no-complaint day
A no-complaint day is just what it sounds like – avoid complaining about anything and everything for one whole day. Instead, find things to be thankful for in frustrating situations. If you have to cancel plans to finish a project for work, focus on how lucky you are to have your job and can afford to have plans.
8. Recognize those who make a difference
Say thank you to people who support you daily; the bus driver, the coffee barista, or the person who held the elevator door for you.
Cultivate a Grateful Life
Cultivating gratitude helps us look at life differently and allows us to see the good in people, our lives, and the world. Gratitude is all around us, touching all areas of our lives. At IIN, we call this primary food: the things that nourish us off the plate, such as career, spiritual practices, home environment, joy, and many more. Through the practice of gratitude, we’re able to show a deeper appreciation for everything in our lives.