“I try hard to hold fast to the truth that a full and thankful heart cannot entertain great conceits. When brimming with gratitude, one’s heartbeat must surely result in outgoing love, the finest emotion we can ever know.”
― Bill W., Co-Founder, Alcoholics Anonymous
Gratitude, it turns out, is much more than a nice fuzzy feeling.
Over the past two decades, researchers have taken an in-depth look at the science of gratitude and discovered that gratitude is a powerful emotional response that has notable benefits on physical, physiological and emotional well-being. In positive psychology studies, gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness, more overall positivity, increased resiliency, and improved social relationships. Several studies have found that more grateful people experience less depression anddeal better with traumatic events. Moreover, there is strong evidence for scores of other physical and psychological benefits. One study found that more grateful cardiac patients slept better, were less fatigued and had lower levels of inflammation. Another found that patients with heart conditions who kept a gratitude journal for eight weeks had reduced signs of inflammation afterward. More on the science of gratitude here!
Are you feeling it yet?!
If the answer is no—because maybe you’re going through a tough time, or just struggling to muster anything to feel good about, all is not lost. Many of us needed a little prompting.
Try a Gratitude Checklist
If you are struggling to find something to feel grateful for, consider the following:
- What has improved about your life over the past year?
- What is one kind or thoughtful thing someone did for you recently?
- Were most of your basic needs met today?
- Can you recall a recent experience of feeling cared for?
- What simple pleasures did you enjoy—or can you enjoy—today?
- What’s one thing you experienced recently that made you feel a sense of wonder or awe?
- Have you noticed something beautiful in nature lately?
- Can you recall a recent situation that turned out much better than you thought it would?
- What’s something you witnessed recently that reminded you about the goodness of life?
- Has anyone positively impacted your life recently?
- Has your physical health allowed you do to things like walk, run or play recently?
- What pleasant everyday experience do you take for granted?
- How have you made personal or professional progress lately?
When we really begin to look, we find that there are opportunities for gratitude everywhere. In this way, we can cultivate a mindset of appreciation, rather than one of fear, anxiety or scarcity. There are countless ways in which our lives are rich, deep and good, even in times of struggle. Tuning in to what is going right in our worlds helps us naturally shift away from the endless focus on the imperfect aspects of our lives. It gives us the gift of the present moment. Gratitude is about much more than the occasional ‘thank you.’ Instead, the practice of giving thanks somehow makes our lives more satisfying.
How to Keep the Practice Alive
If you’ve been at the gratitude game for awhile and it has gotten stale, there are ways to make your practice fresh and alive again. While you might always be thankful for your family, writing, “I’m grateful for my family” over and over won’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. Try being more specific, like: “Thankful that my partner brought me soup when he knew I was sick.”
Another useful trick is to try applying gratitude to difficult situations in your life. If you’ve been feeling resentful about your job recently, making work-specific gratitude lists for a few weeks can be a powerful way to get a new outlook. List five or ten things each day that are good about your job. Even if you repeat yourself day after day (“the free coffee”) or have to really dig, you are re-training your brain to look for opportunities to appreciate a situation.
Gratitude is an Action
But our practice shouldn’t stop with an acknowledgment of things we are thankful for. More than just a pleasant feeling, gratitude is an action. The more we practice demonstrating gratitude, the more we feel it. Just like they say in many 12-step groups, “right feeling follows right action.”
How do you demonstrate gratitude to the people, places, experiences, and things that you listed above? If you’re grateful for the friendly barista who makes your morning coffee, could you demonstrate gratitude by learning her name? Leaving a tip? Good luck out there, and may the holiday season offer you much to be grateful for!
“Happiness is a place that so many will not find. Because it’s not a place on the map. It’s a side effect of an appreciative mind and a gracious heart” -JM Storm