The word “gratitude” may bring to mind politeness and thank you notes—things often seen as automatic manners that affect the person receiving your appreciation more than you. However, science has shown that giving thanks for what you have can increase increase your overall happiness and strengthen your ability to handle stress. Practicing gratitude is also deeper—though still simple to do everyday—than thanking your barista for making a coffee or your coworker for helping you on a project.
Cultivate emotional strength with gratitude
Gratitude is a re-orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in the world. It’s the sense of appreciation of what you have in the present moment. You can show appreciation for things as big as being alive and as small as someone opening the door for you in the morning.
Research on positive emotions suggests that one of the roots of happiness lies in appreciating what you already have rather than pursuing bigger and better things. Of course, gratitude isn’t mutually exclusive with striving toward future goals, but cultivating more gratitude in your life can enhance well-being by amplifying the good of what you have in the present moment.
Gratitude helps you feel connected to other people and the world at large, because it requires you to reflect on how you’ve been aided by other people.
This social aspect of gratitude can strengthen your relationships, make you less lonely, and more compassionate. Grateful people feel closer and more committed to friends and partners, and are more helpful and altruistic towards others.
Researchers have found that practicing gratitude not only increases happiness, life satisfaction, optimism, pleasure, and other positive emotions, but also decreases anxiety and depression. Grateful people are more stress resistant and bounce back from negative life events quicker, and are more protected against post-traumatic stress. A study by Dr. Robert Emmons, a top gratitude researcher, found that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by about 25 percent. By raising your general happiness levels, you’ll be able to remain at a higher level of happiness if something bad outside of your control happens.
“Being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances,” writes Dr. Emmons in the Greater Good.
The easiest way to begin a gratitude practice is with a gratitude journal
While saying thank you is easy, mindful and consistent effort to be grateful is a skill to cultivate. By committing to writing about the things you’re grateful for consistently—whether it be once a day or once a week—you can start to build a gratitude habit. Deciding on a specific time of the day to write in your journal can help crystallize a routine.
How to get the most benefits from your gratitude journal
Record three things you experienced in the past week or day that you’re grateful for. Your entries are meant to be brief—usually a single sentence will do—and they can range from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Here’s how to get the most from your gratitude journal.
Quality over quantity
Elaborating on a single thing in great detail brings more benefits than listing many superficial things. If you are having a hard time coming up with three things, channel your attention on the one or two things you can identify, instead of writing down things that are trivial.
Focusing on people for whom you are grateful has more impact than thinking of things for which you are grateful. If you’re having trouble thinking of someone you’re grateful for this week, think about a good outcome you experienced. Now consider the other people involved in the process that influenced the positive outcome.
Imagine your life without something or someone
Reflecting on what your life would be like without something specific—the understanding and wisdom of a close friend, the beauty of the tree outside your window, clean drinking water, or the companionship of your dog. This exercise can quickly bring appreciation of all the wonderful little and big things that you have now.
Think about the good things you weren’t planning on
Focusing on events that were unexpected or surprising tends to bring about stronger levels of gratitude.
Pass on your appreciation
Make your gratitude practice more powerful by sharing your thankfulness with those that have supported you. Send an email to someone expressing your gratitude, or better yet—say it in person. Showing appreciation through your actions is important to boost emotional benefits for you and the recipient. Verbally expressing your gratitude can help cement the pay off.
Like any habit, cultivating a mindful and consistent gratitude routine takes time and practice. Keeping a gratitude journal will help establish the habit, after a while taking a moment of appreciation may be routine enough to simply say the things you are thankful for out loud everyday. Remember: There’s always room for more gratitude in our lives.
If you’ve been dealing with a high level of stress, and want to learn more techniques to lower your anxiety and strengthen your emotional self, learn more about Lantern here.