22 Nov This Thanksgiving, Celebrate Gratitude
As it turns out, giving thanks is quite good for you. The act of feeling grateful – and actively appreciating these moments in your life – has been proven to improve physical health, boost mental health, increase empathy and self-esteem, and may even help you sleep better at night.
This is no surprise to Positive Psychologists, who focus on character strengths and what makes life most worth living. Positive Psychology, as an applied practice, works to build resilience and impart learned optimism, in order to more closely study happiness, wellbeing, strengths, and ways to flourish. As gratitude largely factors into an individual’s overall happiness in life, the idea is that the more we foster a sense of gratitude, the happier we will be.
Cultivating gratitude throughout the day and week helps to build a bank of positive thoughts that your mind can turn to in quiet moments. For example, while drifting to sleep, instead of thinking about your credit card bill or how you’re behind on a deliverable for work, you’re thinking of a family member who came over to help make dinner or the neighbor who babysat your kids last week. With happiness as the background, you are more likely to feel soothed and relaxed and slip into dreamland without dwelling on anxieties or stressors that might otherwise have you tossing and turning through the night.
Building a “gratitude bank” also helps in the waking hours. Those who regularly express their gratitude experience a mental shift from negative to positive thoughts and emotions – and are thereby more able to focus on the aspects of their lives that are going well. Individuals who practice cultivating gratitude experience increased happiness, greater resiliency, tend to be more patient and understanding, and have even been shown to have lower levels of cellular inflammation.
So how can you turn something like giving a simple “thank you” into a dedicated habit that cultivates gratitude? It is much simpler than it seems. A mainstay of positive psychologists and practitioners of mindfulness is the gratitude journal. While it may sound like a large undertaking, the practice of gratitude journaling doesn’t need to be daunting. Even the act of jotting down a few thoughts once per day, reflecting on moments you are thankful for throughout that day go a long way to building up gratitude and positivity. Multiple studies have shown that individuals who keep daily notes documenting moments of gratitude report feeling more satisfied with their lives, happy, and are more likely to feel optimistic and full of hope.
Indeed, in her novel Thrive, Arianna Huffington shares an excerpt from a joint study conducted by the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida. She writes that researchers asked “participants to write down a list of positive events at the close of a day – and why the events made them happy.” The study showed that picking up this small habit wound up lowering the participants’ self-reported stress levels and imparted a greater sense of relaxation each night.
Thankfully, there are many ways to begin your own gratitude practice and you can tailor the entire experience in a way that will work best for you. A great way to start is to set aside dedicated time each day to record 5-10 things you’re feeling grateful for that day. These thoughts can be delightfully simple, from feeling thankful for the wonderfully delicious cup of tea you enjoyed that morning at breakfast, to the deep gratitude and love you felt greeting your dog at the door after a long day at work. A wonderful lesson that gratitude journaling provides is that gratitude need not be major– in fact, it is many of the small moments each day that bring us joy that we can be thankful for.
Here are a few ways to get started with your very own gratitude journal practice:
Set aside some time each day. To help make the habit stick, it’s a good idea to identify a small window of time each day (5 to 10 minutes can be quite enough) that you know you can take to reflect upon your day, and write. If your mornings tend to be busy with work calls, perhaps pick a small window in the evenings when your schedule is more open. Others prefer to practice writing their gratitude notes right before they go to bed. Any time that works best for you is the best time of all.
Find a dedicated space to keep your thoughts. Your journal doesn’t need to be fancy – it can be anything from a collection of sticky notes or index cards, to a notepad or beautiful bound cloth notebook. However, keeping your thoughts together in one dedicated place is a great idea so you can begin to see how the moments of gratitude build on each other day after day, week after week..
Settle in and pick up a pen. Or a marker, or a pencil. Anything works. Some even prefer keeping their gratitude entries in their mobile phone. The notepad app works great, as do dedicated apps like Stoic, which were developed specifically to help individuals build up their positivity and gratitude practices.
Questions to Get you Started
After a few weeks, many people find that jotting down things they are grateful for each day begins to come naturally. Others always like having a set of questions to turn to helps to prompt them and get them thinking about what they are feeling grateful for. Either way, when you’re just getting started on your gratitude practice, thinking about some of the following topics can be a great way to get the ‘gratitude juices’ flowing:
- What things made you feel happy today?
- Are there any people in your life for whom you are particularly grateful?
- Has anything happened today that made you feel very happy with your life?
- Did you hear any good news today?
- Was there something unique or exciting about the weather?
- Did you have some time to engage in a hobby that brings you happiness?
- Are you feeling proud of something or excited for something?
- Did you recently receive a compliment or piece of praise that has left you feeling valued?
- Did you see anything today that brought you joy?
Don’t feel constrained by this list. Your gratitude practice is yours alone. Turn your thoughts inward, and write about anything that makes you feel particularly satisfied with life. The gratitude will follow.
With the most thankful day of the year upon us, it is a wonderful time to take up the practice of mindfully documenting our gratitude each day. So, this Thursday, if you’re feeling grateful for that turkey leg covered in cranberry sauce, go ahead and write about it in your journal. That way, it is sure to help keep you feeling full of gratitude long after the leftovers are gone.
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