What are you grateful for today?
There has never been a time when having a grateful heart is more necessary and yet, during these stressful times, it is often difficult to embrace gratitude. Daily, there are more and more challenges and life, at times, can seem overwhelming.
Experts tell us that one way to combat daily stressors is to intentionally practice gratitude. But why does that make a difference?
The first reason is that gratitude is good for our bodies. According to Dr. Robert Emmons and his colleagues, gratitude: strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, makes us less likely to attend to aches and pains, increases the likelihood that people will exercise more and increases the probability that people will practice positive health practices.
The second reason is that gratitude is good for our mental health. Research demonstrates that gratitude supports people in managing mood disorders more successfully. Even for those who do not struggle with mood disorders, gratitude increases happiness and well-being. Specifically, research reveals that gratitude increases a host of positive emotions including: joy, optimism, pleasure and enthusiasm.
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Finally, gratitude strengthens relationships; in a myriad of ways. According to research, partners who appreciate each other and who share that appreciation with each other, experience greater satisfaction with their relationships. Also in regards to relationships, the intentional practice of gratitude has been shown to increase feelings of closeness and commitment — with both romantic partners and friends alike.
How does gratitude do all those things? Basically, gratitude allows us to intentionally focus on those things that, when life seems overwhelming, it is all too easy for us to take for granted. By intentionally looking for those things that are positive and “good” in our life, we reduce the importance of and the amount of time spent attending to daily challenges.
So how do we reap the benefits of gratitude?
One practice that can be helpful when building gratitude into your life is to keep a gratitude journal. Several times per week record things that occurred in the day for which you feel grateful. According to research completed by Dr. Emmons, to make this practice more effective:
Make a conscious decision to engage fully with gratitude. Motivation matters. Just going through the motions will not make our gratitude experience positive.
Make a list that details the experiences or things that you are grateful for. Go for depth over breadth.
Focus on people in your life rather than on things.
Try thinking about what your life would be like if you didn’t have certain relationships or comforts in your life. What would your life be like then? You never appreciate simple comforts like running water until your plumbing goes out.
“Look for” the unexpected. Things that are surprising to us have been proven to elicit stronger feelings of gratitude then those things that are “expected.”
Don’t “overdo” it. Recording those things for which you are grateful several days per week, as opposed to daily, has been shown to generate more benefit than a daily practice. Don’t let journaling gratitude become a chore.
When I first started to practice gratitude I discovered, in a rather humorous way, what an impact gratitude could have on your life. At that time, I was doing a “group” gratitude journal with a few of my closest friends. We each kept our own journals then met once a week to discuss “how” gratitude was impacting each of us.
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One morning I woke up in a rather “negative” mood. I decided that I was going to skip my planned journaling for that morning. But then, my Norwegian, Lutheran guilt interfered and I began a “cosmic inner struggle” with myself. “I don’t want to do this … It’s not going to matter … who will know if I skip one entry … but you promised your friends … who are you really cheating … you are a psychologist — if anyone should do it, it should be you …”
As I was arguing with myself, the ice in my water glass on my night stand shifted. I crabbily thought to myself, “ALL RIGHT. I’m grateful for ice. I will write about that!” As soon as I had that thought I laughed (out loud) at myself. I realized how “silly” I was being and ended up writing an entry not only about ice but also about how grateful I was for friends who held me accountable, even when they didn’t know it.
My day started out differently and probably progressed differently, then it would have if I hadn’t intentionally been practicing gratitude. Gratitude matters. It makes a difference.
To discover other gratitude practices that you can incorporate into your life, go to Greatergood@berkeley.edu. Regardless of where you find the practices, start gratitude. Gratitude makes a difference.
So, what are you grateful for today?