Whether you believe gratitude to be a feeling, emotion, mood or some type of personality trait, there is no doubt gratitude elicits greater satisfaction and overall happiness. Science is even proving gratitude to be a great tool in overcoming depression and anxiety.
The act of practicing gratitude regularly may mean a little more mental work, but the dividends far outweigh the effort. More powerful than any pill you can pop, gratitude is a natural mood enhancer.
Why Practice Gratitude?
When it comes to happiness, our focus is often on what we are experiencing on the outside. It is easy to get stuck thinking our particular circumstances determine how happy we should feel, but studies from UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center are showing it is much more of an inside job.
Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the gray matter functioning and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive, and less resistant.”UCLA Newsroom
UC Berkley’s research identified 4 insights into the psychological benefits of gratitude. (Wong, Brown)
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions
- Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it
- Gratitude’s benefits take time and practice. The results are not immediate.
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain.
Pretty cool way of taking care of your well-being, right? If the science doesn’t get you motivated, maybe simplifying the process might help. While there are no short cuts to practicing gratitude, sometimes it helps to know the best place to start.
Want What You Already Have
Feeling like things are less than perfect can be a natural place for our minds to wander automatically. The truth is the grass is always greener where you water it. One of the best places to start practicing gratitude is to stop looking on the other side of the fence and start wanting what you already have.
Our consumer-minded world has trained us to believe more is better; but here is the catch, the more we get the more we crave. When we spend our time thinking about what is missing we end up making ourselves vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and frustration.
How would it feel to want what we have? It takes a bit of brain training to settle in and be satisfied with having enough and being enough. Wanting what we have can measurably change lives.
Do you remember those first writing assignments in elementary school? The incomplete sentences and one-word answers that seemed like they should be adequate? I specifically remember writing “because” on one of my assignments. Figuring my teacher knew what I meant. She gave me back the paper with a long note about adding more details.
When it comes to gratitude it is the details that deliver. Quick and Easy answers won’t get your heart and mind healthier and happier. The thing about details is it forces our heart and mind to connect and really feel what is good in our life.
Try a Different Twist
What you appreciate appreciates.”—Lynn Twist
Instead of focusing on gratitude, try recognizing what you appreciate. But wait. Aren’t they the same thing?
While the definition of each word does refer to the other; changing the verbiage helps change your perspective. Expressing appreciation helps us identify specific details. Instead of saying what you’re grateful for, consider replacing it with what you appreciate.
Rather than thinking:
I’m grateful for my husband.
I could twist it up and say:
I appreciate my husband’s thoughtfulness.
When I get home from an early morning of teaching, it warms my heart to see the bed made. He knows I’m likely exhausted and makes the bed, so I have one less thing to do.
Do you see how I give specific details and evidence of what I’m saying is true?
Here is a template to try it for yourself:
I appreciate [person’s name] [quality/trait]. I say that because [specific details & evidence].
Recognizing something great in someone else has a reciprocal benefit. The more you realize what you appreciate, the more gratitude will bubble up inside you.
The greatest need of a human being is to be understood, validated, and appreciated.”—Stephen R. Covey
The more we express genuine appreciation, the stronger our relationships become, and healthy relationships have been proven to make life more fulfilling. (Mineo)
Gratitude Requires Sacrifice
Complaining can be an easy way to bond with people. It stimulates a false sense of connection. The downside to gratitude is you have to sacrifice some of those time-sucking, negative thoughts.
Because gratitude tends to kill self-pity, jealousy, bitterness, and regret; your negative habits and emotional patterns become a thing of the past. The good news is: it’s is simpler to change thinking habits than it is to change behavior.
Write it Down
Professor Robert A. Emmons of UC Davis, and author of Gratitude Works!, discovered a connection between people who kept a gratitude journal for 3-weeks and an increased level of life satisfaction. These same people also exercised more, drank less, and family and friends noticed they were more enjoyable to be around. The bonus was the effect of keeping a gratitude journal lasted several months beyond the initial 3-week study.
Recent dramatic advances in our understanding of gratitude have changed the question from “does gratitude work?” to “how do we get more of it?” This book explores evidence-based practices in a compelling and accessible way and provides a step-by-step guide to cultivating gratitude in their lives. Gratitude Works! also shows how religious, philosophical, and spiritual traditions validate the greatest insights of science about gratitude.
It doesn’t matter what your negative mental state might be. No matter how bad things may seem, the simple act of writing down what you feel grateful for will instantly change your mood. Consistently writing it down will transform your life.
Gratitude is an attitude, something you practice regularly. Even those who seem more inclined to feel grateful regularly still need to work on creating a positive outlook. As with any practice, you’ll get better at demonstrating gratitude the more you work at it.
If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues…Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”—Thomas S. Monson
It’s easy to dismiss gratitude as self-help or a once a year kind of thing, but when done right, it has a transformative force. Implementing some of these simple ways to practice gratitude will make it one of the most fast-acting tools for a personal transformation you’ll ever find.
I have learned how having a grateful heart lifts me as well as those I love. What has practicing gratitude taught you?
More on Practicing Gratitude
Moran, Joan. “Pause, reflect and give thanks: the power of gratitude during the holidays.” UCLA Newsroom, October 29, 2013.
Mineo, Liz. “Good genes are nice, but joy is better.” The Harvard Gazette, April 11, 2017.
Wong, Joel and Joshua Brown. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, JUNE 6, 2017.