Practice Gratitude for Greater Happiness

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I recently began intentionally practicing something incredibly transformative, yet so simple, that I had to pass it on to my readers! It requires no special training, not a single other person, little time investment, and is free. Best of all, as the research now points out, increased happiness and well-being are likely to follow!

The funny thing is that I learned about this “little” jewel in Sunday School years ago. Most of us are taught this by our parents, myself included. So I am not exactly sure how I missed putting it fully into practice until recently! But now that I have reaped the amazing benefits, there is no turning back for me. Practicing gratitude markedly improved what I already felt was a happy and joyful life. I think I’ll keep practicing it!

What Gratitude Is

Randy A. Sanson, MD and Lori A. Sanson, MD, authors of the article Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation, define gratitude in this way: 

Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.

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Why Practice Gratitude

According to Robert Emmons, Ph.D., University California, Davis, a leading researcher on gratitude, people who are grateful experience these amazing things…

  • more positive feeling
  • less stress and depression
  • more empathy and willingness to help others
  • greater optimism
  • higher life satisfaction
  • placing less emphasis on material things
  • less envy

Emmons found that keeping a gratitude journal just once a week, where participants wrote 5 things they were grateful for, had remarkable positive results. The people who kept journals were more likely to make progress in important personal goals. Health-wise, they exhibited fewer physical ailments. These individuals were more optimistic about the upcoming week and felt better about their lives as a whole

Circumstances for Practicing Gratitude

Our circumstances do not have to be going “well” to practice gratitude. Hard things happen in life and the grateful person does not pretend otherwise. Emmons says, “The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.”

Ironically, in the midst of preparing this post, Monday was one of the most difficult days I’ve experienced in a long while. It started out lovely, visiting with our beloved “adopted” grandmother, but quickly turned south leaving us a little “shell shocked”.

After a special lunch with my grandmother and two daughters, we were in a car accident. The car may be totaled, but thankfully everyone involved in the accident only incurred minor injuries, cuts and bruises. And other than being a little scared, the girls were totally fine.

Then, an hour after the accident we got bad news about my father’s health. Shook-up from the accident, the news hit me especially hard. I spent the rest of the day in a bit of a daze. Later that evening, my sweet mom, who was struggling herself, suggested that we list off the things we were thankful for. It was a beautiful, memorable experience.

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Ways to Practice Gratitude

If you aren’t currently in the practice of seeing the glass half-full, these suggestions will help you onto the path toward gratitude and the resulting greater well-being. Really they could help all of us!

1.) Keep a gratitude journal. Make sure to write a sentence for each thing you are grateful for. And, it might help to keep it handy by your bed or at your desk, for easy access.

2.) Express thankfulness to and for others.  This can be done verbally or in a note. One researcher found that writing a 300 word gratitude letter resulted in boosted happiness and less depression, for up to a month, in those who participated!

3.) Pray. Research shows that religious people are more apt to be grateful. Likely, because, as Emmons points out, “Gratitude does not require religious faith, but faith enhances the ability to be grateful.”

4.) Note things you are grateful for throughout the day. This can be either a mental or verbal exercise. The important thing is that you express gratitude when you see or experience something good/beautiful. They can be as “simple” as a striking sunrise or warm drink on a cold day.

5.) Set “gratefulness markers”. These are event(s)/time(s) when you intend to be grateful every single day. It can be first thing in the morning, before or during meals, during a commute, or while getting ready for bed at night. Whatever works for you!

Practicing Gratitude is Worth the Effort

Practicing gratitude is a great tool to help us enjoy every moment. It really is one of the easiest, yet highly beneficial, practices that I have implemented. The benefits gained far outweigh any minimal cost of time and energy (one way I daily express gratefulness, is in the form of prayer while lying in bed!) This one really is a no-brainer. My only regret is that I wish I had fully put gratitude into practice sooner.

I would love to hear how you have, or plan to, implement gratitude into your life! Or is there someone you know who has experienced positive change from this practice? It’s so powerful!

References

Emmons, Robert, Ph.D. Gratitude and Well-Being.http://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/gratitude-and-well-being/. Accessed Jan 27, 2015.

Emmons, Robert, Ph.D. Measuring Gratitude. http://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/measuring-gratitude/. Accessed Jan. 27, 2015.

Sanson, Randy A., MD and Sanson, Lori A., MD. Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/. Accessed Jan. 27, 2015

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