This time of year everyone is talking about gratitude. It’s great that we set time aside for it, but gratitude can be a healing practice all year round.
Research has found a practice of gratitude to be beneficial for your physical, psychological, and social well-being. Since it's free, does not take much time, and can be done in the privacy of your own home it may be worth developing.
A gratitude practice is different than having an "attitude of gratitude" or "looking on the bright side of things." For one thing, it is much more intentional than just being optimistic or thankful from time to time.
Let's explore the benefits of this practice and consider how to start one!
The Benefits of Gratitude
Feelings of gratitude are good for our brains, activating the hypothalamus and flooding our brains with the feel-good hormone dopamine. Some studies have found it decreased the prominent stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure while increasing heart rate variability.
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, found that people who consistently practice gratitude report many physical, psychological, and social benefits such as:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercising more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated.
Brene Brown On Joy & Gratitude
Researcher Brene Brown has stated that “there is no joy without gratitude”. Listen as she discusses what her research taught her about the importance of establishing a gratitude practice. (Hint: she expected to find that joy led to gratitude, but found it was the other way around!)
How to Cultivate a Gratitude Practice
There are many things that you can do to create a practice of gratitude. The key is to establish habits that help you focus on something you are thankful for on a regular basis. It is important that these habits feel both fresh and authentic.
While it may not feel natural at first, it’s important to focus on being genuine. This means being completely honest with yourselves. You get more benefit from focusing on small things you are truly thankful for than from pretending you are grateful for larger things that you think you should be thankful for.
You receive the most benefit from practices that are fresh and have not grown mundane. If you start to feel like you are doing your gratitude practice to check it off your to-do list, it may be time to switch up your gratitude practice. And with so many ways to explore gratitude, there is no reason to get stuck in a rut.
- Create a gratitude journal.
- Write thank you cards or letters of affirmation to people in your life.
- Meditate on things you are grateful for each morning for 5 minutes.
- Help someone that doesn’t have all the advantages that you do.
- Find something to look forward to each week.
- Think about someone who has influenced your life and write them a letter.
- Pray to express thankfulness for the good things in your life.
- Choose one word that brings up feelings of gratitude (hope, life, family, friends, health, etc.) each day. Write the word down and think about it throughout the day.
- Listen to a song you enjoy and take time to really appreciate it.
- Practice mindful eating to really appreciate the gift of food.
- For more ideas check out 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.
If you are ready to jump into a gratitude practice that is great! But if you are in a difficult season and can’t imagine developing such a practice, be kind to yourself. Just start small and look for one little thing to be grateful for!