This year the list of things my girls are thankful for includes mom, dad, sisters, friends, string cheese, cookies, candy, rainbows, and unicorns!
Focusing on gratitude this season is lovely, but expressing genuine gratitude can be a healing practice all year round. So, let’s use this holiday to set the tone for the rest of the year by creating a gratitude practice.
A gratitude practice is different from having an "attitude of gratitude" or "looking on the bright side of things." It is more intentional than just being optimistic or thankful from time to time and requires a decision to set aside time for gratitude each day.
It’s a simple thing that will benefit 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 anyone can do it.
Let's explore some of these benefits and consider how to incorporate a gratitude practice into our lives.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Feeling gratitude is 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
- Exercise more
- Take better care of their health
- Sleep longer
- 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
How to Cultivate a Gratitude Practice
A gratitude practice is simply forming habits that help you focus on something you are thankful for on a regular basis. It could be an object, person, or experience. You may be thankful for your health or a quality you see in yourself. Anything is fair game!
You must be genuine to get the benefits of this practice, so be completely honest with yourselves. More benefit will come 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.
It’s important to keep your gratitude practice fresh. 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 try something new. 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.
- Think about qualities you are thankful for in yourself.
- Meditate on things you are grateful for each morning for 5 minutes.
- Help someone who 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.
- Write down one word that brings up feelings of gratitude and think about it throughout the day (hope, life, family, friends, health, etc.).
- Listen to a song you enjoy and take time to really appreciate it.
- Practice mindful eating to appreciate the gift of food.
- Check out 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude for more ideas.
I hope you have a lovely week enjoying those you love and thinking about all the things you are grateful for.
P.S. If you are in a difficult season and can’t imagine developing such a practice, be kind to yourself. We explore this issue in Authentic Gratitude in Difficult Times.