How often do you practice gratitude? While in the back of your mind it’s likely that you’re thankful for everything you have, it can be easy to forget to consciously practice your appreciation especially when things go wrong. If this is something you want to make a priority, it can be full of benefits for your heart, soul, and mind. In fact, there are many reasons why practicing gratitude on a daily basis can improve your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
What is Gratitude?
At the most basic level, gratitude is an affirmation of something positive. It is showing an appreciation for something you have or for something you have received. The origin of gratitude comes from the Latin word ‘gratus’, which means ‘pleasing’, ‘thankful’. For most of us it is quite easy to be thankful when things are going our way but it is when we are mired in life challenges that we need to practice gratitude.
While it doesn’t negate the fact that there are bad things in life, appreciation allows us to see beyond the perceived challenge or negativity. Thinking about gratitude gives us the opportunity to dig deeper into our well-being by searching for the source of goodness in our life. At the very least, the act of being grateful, allows us to shift our focus on what is good rather than what is bad.
What are the Benefits of Practicing Gratitude?
As mentioned, it’s easy to be thankful for what you have, your family, your friends, and everything else you love about your life, but how often do you actually take the time to reflect on what you’re genuinely grateful for? For some, it happens as a result of others’ misfortunes – a close friend or family member loses their job, gets into an accident, or gets sick. These moments give you the chance to see how good you have it. But often these times of gratitude are temporary.
Often it takes a significant event for us to make a habit of taking stock of what we have. Many years ago my brother, only 34 years old, died from a swimming accident. Before then I had lived my life without much thought, intention or appreciation. This single and pivotal occurrence propelled me onto a path of deep reflection and eventually, of gratitude.
While life-altering events can be catalysts for reflection, those moments shouldn’t be the only times we practice gratefulness. Each day it’s important to allot time to the practice of appreciation. By doing so, you can experience many benefits, such as feelings of positive emotions and fulfillment, better sleep and reciprocating kindness. Who wouldn’t want all of that just from appreciating what they have?
Benefits of Writing in a Gratitude Journal
According to research done by author Robert Emmons, who is also a psychologist at UC Davis, keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to be an effective way of reaping the mindful benefits of gratitude. The more often you write, the more significantly your life will be impacted by more satisfaction and feelings of overall well-being.
Over the years that Emmons did his gratitude study, he found that the results were overwhelmingly positive. Those who kept a gratitude journal, where they reflected on what they were thankful for in that day, experienced a variety of physical, social, mental, and emotional benefits. Some of the most common benefits included:
- The ability to forgive more easily
- Lowered risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders
- Strengthened immune systems
- Better sleep
- Lowered blood pressure
- Feeling more positive every day
- Experiencing more joy and happiness
- More helpful to others
- Socially outgoing and more talkative
Why are the Benefits Important?
Finding the Real Source of Joy
A true gratitude practice is cherishing both small and big things, significant and insignificant moments, people that are dear to you to complete strangers or perhaps even ‘enemies’. We want to condition ourselves to search for the beauty in all things, examples could be:
- 10 minutes of silence in the morning
- A pen that writes nicely
- A breeze that cooled you down
When we are practicing gratitude, we are anchored in the present moment, instead of thinking about the past or future. Typically when our minds are in the past or future, we’re stressed, anxious or worried.
Pushing Out the Negativity
In today’s world, where it’s filled with constant distractions and busyness, it’s quite easy to spin on our thoughts, which are typically negative in nature. This can change when you begin to practice daily gratitude and instead focus on what’s good. Essentially, you’re disrupting the negative thought pattern and replacing it with a positive one.
More Enjoyment in Everyday Life
When you start to recognize all the wonderful things about yourself and your life, you will want to celebrate them, stop taking things for granted, and increase your appreciation for them. As you practice daily gratitude, you become more conscious of the good things in the present moment. If you’re aware of what you have, wouldn’t you want to enjoy them?
Reducing Your Stress
When you’re focused on negativity or are just going from task to task in life trying to get to the end of the day, this can leave you burdened with excess stress. While stress is a normal part of life, chronic stress can deteriorate your health and well-being. When you practice gratitude, things can change. This can give you a more positive perspective that reduces anxiety as well as stress in a more effective manner.
Stop Wanting More
We live in a world of excess. From a very young age we are conditioned to believe that more is better – a bigger house, a faster car, designer clothes, etc. We also eat too much. According to a Harvard study, 2 out of 3 adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese, and if these trends continue, then estimates predict that about half of men and women will be obese by 2030. In Canada, the obesity rates are not as high, however, it has seen similar increases in the past 30 years.
When we are being mindful and grateful, we realize that everything we need we already have. We begin to recognize that our source of happiness is not rooted in the external, but from within.
Other Ways to Practice Gratitude
Keep a jar in your home and anytime you experience anything to be grateful for, write it down on a note and put it inside. At the end of the year, review all of the great moments that have occurred.
Write a Letter
Help someone else understand what an impact they had in your life when they did something that helped you. A letter can be a great way to show your appreciation and offer a proper thanking that truly means something.
Find a stone from a lake or a beach and keep it in your pocket. Every time you touch it, think of something that you’re grateful for.
How to Get Started?
Grab a journal and keep it with you wherever you go; you can also use your phone. When you have a few minutes to reflect, take the time to write out what you are grateful for and the positive things that have occurred in your day. It might surprise you that there’s a lot more to be thankful for than you may have previously thought. As you progress, try to write down the positive ways your life has changed since you started keeping this journal. If you’re like most, the positive benefits make taking the time to write out what you’re grateful for well worth it.
Let me ask you, how do you practice gratitude? Please share in the comments.