Two Ways to Cultivate Gratitude Today
With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us here in the States, it seems like everyone is talking about gratitude. Thanksgiving is, after all, about setting aside time to give thanks for our blessings. The “First Thanksgiving” was three days of feasting, thanksgiving and celebration by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621.
Although the Thanksgiving holiday is not unique to the United States, for many of us here it truly is a time to be grateful. I love this time of year. We have a day off to share a good meal with friends, family, and, more often than not, football.
But science and philosophy alike show us that gratitude is more than just a nice idea. In fact, there are concrete benefits to connecting with this feeling on a regular basis. Philosophers and sages have taught since ancient times that cultivating gratitude is a key to experiencing more happiness, fulfillment, and well-being. More recent studies show that an “attitude of gratitude” is a good health choice.
Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude is an emotion that is connected to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and
appreciation. Research by psychologist Robert Emmons found that people who consciously focus on what they are grateful for experience more emotional well-being and physical health than those who don’t. In comparison with control groups, those who actively cultivated a grateful perspective also experienced:
- Greater physical, emotional and social well-being
- More feelings of connection
- More positive emotions such as joy, optimism and happiness
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
- Greater progress toward important goals
- More regular exercise and better care of their health
- Improved sleep
- Less stress even during trying times
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Having more energy and enthusiasm
- Being more likely to help others and to see things in a larger context
Gratitude is a powerful tool that we can use to expand our happiness, create more loving relationships, meet more of our professional goals and even improve our health.
As the research shows, if you want more happiness, energy and joy, gratitude is clearly an important quality to cultivate. Being more grateful more often makes us happier and more optimistic. But gratitude also adds to the bottom line – in very real ways. It helps us make more progress toward those goals that are most important to us. And it can protect us from more negative or draining states such as stress, anxiety and depression.
Gratitude can literally help us shift from the contraction we experience from limiting beliefs or fears to the expansion we experience from love, connection and joy. When we’re appreciating something, our ego moves out of the way and we’re able to connect with something deeper. Gratitude also brings our attention into the present, which is where life happens.
Perhaps the best news about gratitude is that it requires little time and no money to cultivate. Here are two proven gratitude practices you can try today:
- Keep a Gratitude Journal. Perhaps the most popular way to cultivate gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. The practice itself is quite simple but also profound: write 3-5 things in your journal that you are grateful for over the past week. You can keep it brief, but take the time to really connect with the feeling of gratitude.If you’re feeling stuck, ask yourself questions such as:
- Who or what inspired me today/ this week?
- What brought me happiness today/ this week?
- Where or when did I experience great beauty or joy today/ this week?
- What brought me comfort or peace today/ this week?
- What made me laugh today/ this week?
- What important lessons did I learn today/ this week?
You might appreciate the beauty of a sunset; enjoy a walk in nature; feel grateful for waking up refreshed; a conversation with a good friend; listening to and enjoying a favorite song; the ability to help a colleague with a problem at work.
You can write in your journal first thing in the morning, just before you go to bed or even just before or after you meditate. The time of day isn’t important as long as it works for you, it isn’t even important that you do it every day; what is important is that you consistently (weekly or more often) take a few moments to focus your mind on your blessings.
To experience the difference gratitude can make, commit to keeping a gratitude journal for one month. Write 3-5 things you’re grateful for at least 2-3x/ week. What you put your attention on expands in your life. By offering gratitude for all the blessings you experience, you’re inviting yourself to notice and receive more of the positive — more of what you enjoy and want.
- Write a Thank You Letter. Choose someone who has had a positive impact on your life and write a thank you letter expressing your gratitude for all of the gifts, wisdom or lessons you’ve received from them. Give this letter to that individual in person if possible. Now do this for 4 more people over the next month. When people and businesses have practiced gratitude by writing thank you letters, the results have been astounding. Often the recipient of the letter had no idea what an impact he or she had had and was deeply touched by the handwritten expression of gratitude.
Doing one or both of these practices has the power to transform your life in a very positive way. As you cultivate more gratitude, your focus naturally shifts away from what is lacking in your life to all of the abundance that already exists. We all have experiences in our days and our lives that challenge us, that we don’t like. Having a regular gratitude practice is one simple yet profound way of retraining your brain to see and appreciate all of the abundance, beauty and possibility that lays before us each day. Regardless. And that’s no small thing.
So as another Thanksgiving holiday is upon us… what are you grateful for today?
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