From an early age, we are taught the important of practicing gratitude (“Say ‘Thank you!'”), and rightfully so: According to research by University of California, Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, the simple habit of being thankful can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction. In his book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, he highlights the positive effects of keeping a gratitude journal and reflecting on the small moments for which we can give thanks.
And it goes beyond that: Cultivating gratitude in our lives can have spiritual benefits, yes, but it also extends to our physical health. It has been suggested that grateful people take better care of themselves, and engage in protective behaviors like maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise. Adopting an attitude of thankfulness is also linked to a better immune function, a better ability to relax and an overall decreased rate of disease.
Now this all sounds very easy—to just be thankful for everything, and to, in turn, feel better about everything—but there are biological reasons indicating that it is actually easier to focus on negativity. It is up to us, then, to foster the behaviors that lead to gratitude. Here are some ways to do just that.
- Keep that daily gratitude journal, highlighting one thing each day for which you are thankful. It can be a great, big life event or it can be a simple observation. I personally love to keep a gratitude jar: I write my gratitudes on scraps of paper, adding said notes to the jar throughout the year, and then I empty it on New Year’s Eve to look back on all the great things that made me happy that year.
- Performing random acts of kindness can produce an instant 10% increase in happiness and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. Start today, and tell someone how grateful you are to have them in your life and how much you appreciate them. Treat the person behind you in the drive-through queue to their coffee, grab a sandwich for a homeless person, or check in on an elderly neighbor. All of these types of gestures—large and small—are guaranteed to raise a smile from the recipient and make you feel better, too. Win, win.
- Stop complaining! Easier said than done, but when you feel yourself getting agitated by a frustrating situation, take a few deep breaths and think of something positive. Not only does this feel comforting, but it also helps to clear the mind of negativity. Visualization helps in this situation, too: Picture your favorite place and take a few moments to focus on this vision.
- Start appreciating the little things. Like, say, a beautiful frosty morning or the giggle of a small child, maybe a delicious meal or time spent with friends. We take so many things for granted, so to take a moment and notice the little things is a great way to instantly feel better about yourself—and life in general.
- Love yourself! Sometimes this is the hardest act of gratitude: Being grateful for yourself, and all the great qualities you have. Write yourself a love letter (yes, really), listing all the things that you admire about yourself. A very powerful act of gratitude is to actually look at yourself in the mirror and say “I love you”. Say it like you mean it, and expect strong feelings of emotion and maybe some tears. It is not until we can really love ourselves that we can truly love and appreciate what we have around us.
(Image via Unsplash.)
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