Thanksgiving is coming up this week and we all have a lot to be thankful for. Personally I’m thankful for my family, my friends, the great people I get to partner with on business ventures, and the nice life I have here in Las Vegas. Lately we’ve heard a lot about how practicing gratitude can benefit our lives as well as those around us. I know from personal experience that being grateful for the things we have can be difficult. It’s hard to focus on gratitude when we’re overwhelmed with everything that life throws at us. That’s why it’s important to bring gratitude to the front of our mind with a daily practice. Making time for this practice and will help us develop a strong habit until it’s second nature to us.
Practicing Gratitude: The Benefits
There are a lot of benefits to practicing gratitude. It makes us feel better about ourselves and it improves our relationships with other people. Amy Morin wrote in Psychology Today about 7 ways that gratitude benefits us:
Gratitude opens the door to more relationships
Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to that colleague who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
Gratitude improves physical health
Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
Gratitude improves psychological health
- Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression
Grateful people are more likely to behave in a pro-social manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
Grateful people sleep better
Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
Gratitude improves self-esteem
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
Gratitude increases mental strength
For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
Practicing Gratitude: One Method
Now that you know the benefits of gratitude it’s time to develop your own daily gratitude practice. What works for someone else, may not work for you. It’s important to set yourself up for success by choosing a routine that works for you. Rather than just provide a list, I’ll tell you about my daily practice. You can generate your own ideas from there.
My daily gratitude practice starts just about as soon as I wake up. After I take the dog out to play for a few minutes. I meditate in my favorite chair to get myself in a calm and open frame of mind. As soon as I’m done, before I even get up from the chair, I open my journal. I write down three things that I’m grateful for. Sometimes I’m grateful for the people in my life. It could be something I’ve learned, an experience, or that it’s a really nice day out. I follow-up what I’m grateful for with writing out some personal goals that would make today a really great day. After that I close my journal and start my day!
At the end of the day, write down three things that happened that were really amazing. Since I’m not perfect, I also write down at least one thing that I could have improved upon. I’ve been doing this for about two years now. It really helps me focus on what’s important instead of dwelling on little things that frustrate or annoy me.
Practicing Gratitude: Tips for Building Your Practice
Now that you have an example to work on, it’s time to go build your own gratitude practice. There’s a reason we call it practicing gratitude. It doesn’t happen automatically. Just like an athlete or musician who practices every day, we need to commit to our practice as well.
There are a few things to keep in mind whenever embarking on a new journey like this one. First, research tells us it takes most of us 45 to 60 days to build a habit. To experience the benefits of practicing gratitude, commit to practice through the new year until it becomes second nature. Also, a practice like this works best if we do it every day. If that seems overwhelming to you or hard to commit to, try starting with 3 days a week. Keep adding a day each week until you’re up to every day. Finally, building a habit also works best if we do our practice at the same time every day. If your schedule is highly variable, blocking out time each day can help build the habit too.
Practicing gratitude is a great way to find more peace and build stronger relationships with the people in our lives. It’s challenging develop a daily practice, but there are techniques we can use to set ourselves up for success. Even though practicing gratitude isn’t always easy, the benefits that come from putting the time in are worth the effort.