By: Tiffanie Hampton, LCSW
Gratitude is a topic that often comes up when Thanksgiving rolls around, but it’s a worthwhile topic to talk about all year round. I want gratitude to be part of who I am rather than something I just conjure up during the holidays or whenever something good happens in my life. Why do I want to practice gratitude? Well, there is a ton of research that shows it can improve our physical health, increase our mental strength, and can help us sleep better. Don’t we all want to be stronger, smarter, faster, and well rested?
Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
Increase Mental Strength
A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.
Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you will fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Confession: Practicing gratitude used to sound like a bunch of psychobabble to me. But hey, what did I have to lose? Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have – rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life. So how do you do this? Here are some practical ideas.
- Share gratitude each day by posting a tweet, Facebook post or Pinterest.
- Make a gratitude collage, cut out pictures of all the things that you are grateful for
- Reward effort, if someone does something nice for you, do something nice for them. Try to take note when people do a good job and give recognition when it’s due at work.
- Post quotes and images that remind you to be grateful around your house. You can make it fun and buy dry erase markers to write on your mirrors or fridge!
- Say thank you at least once a day. You can do this text message, e-mail, or face to face. Saying thank you to the barista who makes your coffee can help you both have a better day.
- Pause and savor something once a day. Stop eating while standing up and really taste your food. Literally stop and smell the flowers outside your office. Take time to drink your coffee and reflect on the present.
- Write down 3 good things about your day every day for 21 days and keep a gratitude journal. You can journal every day after your gratitude practice of noticing and savoring things. There is something about writing it down that helps me to consciously think about what is positive in my life.
- Volunteer-giving back to others helps us to appreciate what we have.
- Spend time with loved ones- Not only will it help you grow closer to them and strengthen your relationship, but it will also give you a chance to practice your acts of gratitude on people that you care about.
- Call your Mom every Sunday and call your grandparents to tell them you love them and express gratitude for a positive memory you have!
Practicing gratitude may not have turned me into some happy-go-lucky person I was never meant to be (or, frankly, wanted to be). But I developed a fundamentally different way of thinking and moving through life, one in which I stopped taking for granted all the tiny good moments that were already part of it. I stopped looking for happiness out there and learned to find it right here. I felt more connected to friends, family, and my colleagues, and even on the toughest days, I managed my stress better (which research shows is a long-lasting effect of practicing gratitude).
My advice? Give gratitude a shot.