5 Easy Ways to Grow your Gratitude
It’s the season where we give thanks, and research suggests leaning into this attitude of gratitude year-round can have significant mental and physical health benefits.
This holiday season, as you are gathering around the dinner table, chew on some of these findings about the outcomes of increased gratitude:
- Increased Happiness: Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research overwhelmingly shows that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
- Enhanced Self Esteem: A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased the self-esteem of athletes.
- Fewer Aches and Pains: Emmons published another study in the American Psychological Association which found that college students who wrote about things they were grateful for once a week for ten consecutive weeks reported fewer physical symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, sore muscles, and nausea, as compared to placebo groups.
- Better Sleep: A 2008 study by Wood et. al from the University of Manchester, showed that people who are more grateful reported falling asleep more quickly, sleeping longer, having better sleep quality, and staying awake more easily during the day.
- Improves Physical Health: A 2012 study published in the Journal of Psychology, Health & Medicine found that people who are more grateful tend to exercise more, have regular health checkups and reported lower levels of perceived loneliness and stress
While these studies cannot show cause and effect, it’s clear there is a connection to gratitude and enhanced well-being.
Practicing gratitude can rev up the happiness level in your life. Regular cultivation is important for your personal health and well-being. Expressing all that gratitude can have a ripple effect by building solid relationships at work and home. The best part is it can be super simple, and most practices are free. The key to seeing results, just like working out, is consistency. Below are some easy ways to exercise your gratitude muscles:
1. Gratitude Journal
There are many different ways to execute your “journal”, but the main idea is the same: spend some time to record positive things in your life on a regular basis.
The minimalist version of a gratitude journal was tested out by my husband, who is an engineer and not much into writing assignments. But as a part of a leadership development course, he began starting his day by writing one thing he is thankful for on a post-it, and putting it in his drawer. Each day this took him maybe 30 seconds, but the post-its added up. At the end of a year, he went through all of his grati-notes, and sorted them by type. As a special surprise, he saved up a year’s worth of very specific appreciations and gave them to me for Valentine’s Day. I was swooning to read all those appreciations, and you can bet that gratitude bubble reciprocated many times over in our relationship. Years later, I’m still giving him kudos for that J Which takes us to our next exercise…
2. Writing a letter of thanks
Enjoying gratitude can be a lovely personal process, but it’s proven to have a longer lasting effect when shared with others.
A study by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania asked participants to write, and hand-deliver, a letter of appreciation to someone they deemed had not been properly thanked. Increased happiness levels lasted over a month, longer than any other gratitude intervention. This provides evidence that involving others in appreciation is more effective than internalizing feelings of gratitude. Just like wine, gratitude is better when it’s shared!
In today’s fast-paced world we write emails of thanks, say and hear it often, but so rarely do we hand-write a thank you letter. There is something timeless about taking time to sit down with a physical piece of paper and pen and record a message of appreciation.
You don’t have to be a bodhisattva to enjoy the benefits of meditation. Taking 10 minutes a day to ground yourself, focus on breathing, and become present in the moment, has immense benefits. Numerous studies have found meditation increases productivity, self-control, compassion and happiness. It can increase gratitude by shifting the focus away from what is wrong and missing, and instead to all which is currently present. With celebrity endorsements such as Oprah Winfrey, Richard Gere and Katy Perry, meditation is mainstream as ever.
If you’re new to meditation, you may choose to use a guided meditation recording or app, like Insight Timer.
My husband and I took part in our own experiment a few weeks ago where we committed to doing this 10-minute morning meditation together for 10 days to see if we would notice a difference. As an experienced meditation practitioner, I knew I’d feel more at peace, but I had not anticipated how much I’d look forward to doing it with someone else. I also did not expect the benefits of having a shared experience and shared language around intentionally shifting our internal responses to a more positive outlook. After 10 days, we both found ourselves to be more patient, more grateful and more joyful – all in only 10 minutes a day! It’s been so helpful to us that we decided we’d make this ritual a daily fixture in our lives.
Take it from Will Smith, “Your life will become better by helping others”. Connecting with others from all walks of life helps put things into perspective, and allows you to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s easy to become wrapped up in the day-to-day drama and busyness of life, but spending an afternoon at the local food pantry, animal shelter or reading to kids reminds us of what is really important. Seeing how someone else lives, or working to build something bigger than ourselves helps us realize what to be grateful for in our own lives.
5. Reflection and Sharing
At the end of the day, cultivating gratitude is about taking time to be present and reflect on the good things in life. One of our favorite ways to do this is kicking back and enjoying a glass of Carmel Road wine with a friend and appreciating the moment. Carmel Road invites you wind down, breathe in the aroma of the wine’s complex notes, and appreciate the careful process of grape to glass.
This season, and all year long, enjoy the journey.