A big thank you to Gill for today’s Thanksgiving blog.
Cultivating the habit of gratitude
It’s thanksgiving and the time of year when we look for reasons to, you guessed it, be thankful. But what if we decided to practice gratitude 365 days a year? What would happen? A study published in Personality and Individual Differences 2012 found that subjects who practiced gratitude experienced fewer aches and pains. Wharton Business School researchers at Penn University found managers who said “Thank you” motivated their employees to work harder. We know from a glut of research from positive psychologists that the benefits of gratitude range from improved sleep, increased ability to manage stress, elevated levels of energy, improved emotional and physical health to better relationships. The list goes on.
Gratitude and happiness
So, we know that it’s good for us, but what is it? Robert Emmons, PhD and author of ‘Gratitude Works’ and ‘Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make you Happier’ describes gratitude as the ‘forgotten factor’ in the happiness equation. He states that gratitude is a story of two parts. Firstly, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world.” Secondly, “We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.” Emmons goes on to say that he sees gratitude as “a relationship strengthening emotion.” And if that isn’t a good enough reason on its’ own to practice gratitude, Lisa Aspinwall, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah found that those who practiced being thankful experienced a huge boost to their immune system.
Five habits that cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. The evolutionary negativity bias in our brain can lead us to focus on the negative more readily. If you have an innate tendency towards a glass half empty than half full, fret not, there are simple steps that you can take to rewire your brain and build your gratitude habit on a daily basis.
- Say ‘Thank you’. This one is simple. Look for things that people have done that you can thank them for; great service in a shop, help from a colleague, a kind comment from a friend and either say it in person or ink it in a ‘Thank you’ note.
- Keep a Journal. At the end of each day, reflect upon the last 24 hours and write down at least 5 things that you are grateful for. Remind yourself throughout the day that you are consciously looking for experiences that you are grateful for. This constant reminder is a clever way of retraining your brain to focus on the positive so you’re getting two for the price of one! Think about goals you’ve achieved, tasks completed, people who’ve helped you or events you’ve enjoyed. Remember to focus on five new things you are grateful for each day to keep your gratitude neurons firing!
- Practice Mindfulness. Being in the present moment with judgement allows you to experience moment fully without labeling it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As you go about your day, stop, pause, take a breath and reflect upon what you are grateful for. You could try this with a morning walk to work, a cup of tea, a smile from a stranger or a moment outdoors in the sunshine.
- Find a gratitude buddy. Like all habits, once you’ve committed the going can at times be tough. With a gratitude buddy you;ll have someone to share your thankful moments with, to support you and to keep the momentum going (and something or someone else to be grateful for). It doesn’t have to be face to face, you can email or Skype each other daily with the 5 things you’re grateful for from your journal.
- Don’t give up when your inner grouch takes over. Yes, it’s true, we all have days when we feel like the ‘Grinch’ and can’t find anything to be grateful for. When you hit this kind of bump in the road, dust yourself down, cut yourself some slack and remember tomorrow is another day.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of gratitude, this video of Robert Emmons on the subject is a great place to start: