Gratitude—the feeling of deep appreciation—has long been a staple of religious traditions, and it's becoming more and more popular today.
Oprah has kept a written gratitude journal for more than a decade and now keeps one using an app.
As part of his morning routine, Tony Robbins takes time to recall three things he’s grateful for, making sure at least one of them is something small like, “the wind on my face or the smile of my son.” He says part of what makes this practice so powerful is, “When you're grateful you can’t be fearful.”
Writer and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss uses a five-minute journal practice in the morning to fuel him for the day. “It's easy to become obsessed with pushing the ball forward as a Type-A personality and end up a perfectionist who is always future-focused,” he says. “The five-minute journal is a therapeutic intervention, for me at least, because I am that person. It allows me to not only get more done during the day but to also feel better throughout the entire day, to be a happier person, to be a more content person—which is not something that comes naturally to me.”
During her yoga classes, Elena Brower will sometimes have students pause to write a gratitude list. These lists can include family, friends, teachers, coworkers, etc. But Brower encourages her students not to stop there. She suggests to also cultivate gratitude for difficult people or situations that may be helping you grow. “If we cultivate a state of gratitude, even for one moment, in a situation where we usually find ourselves complaining, the healing reaches into our hearts, right through us, and into everyone nearby,” Brower says.
3 Gratitude Practices to Try
Kick-start your gratitude practice by writing down a few things you are grateful for each day, either in the morning or at night. It does not need to be a long list, and you don't need a fancy journal—even a sticky note will do. You can make your list as long as you'd like, but try to start with at least 3 to 5 specific moments or things you appreciate.
It’s important to be specific and sincere—you could be thankful for a good night’s sleep, a delicious lunch, a kind word your partner said to you, the beauty of a particular flower, or the way the snow swirled around in the porchlight.
Keep in mind that expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to feel good by acknowledging the goodness that surrounds you.
2. Write a Letter
This practice can be fun to do once a week or once a month. In a world of so many emails and texts, writing a handwritten letter to someone in your life can be powerful. Like journaling, you don’t have to spend a lot of time on this practice, and you can easily prepare by stocking up on stationery.
In your letter, express what you love about this person and how they have impacted your life for the better.
In one study, Kent State professor Steve Toepfer found that writing a gratitude letter increased happiness and decreased symptoms of depression.
“The letter writers were instructed to write a letter of gratitude to anyone they wanted, however, the letter couldn’t be trivial and it couldn’t be a ‘thank you’ note for a gift or ‘thanks for saying hello to me this morning,’” Toepfer explains. “The participants had to write about something that was important to them.”
3. Take a Gratitude Walk
Combine two health-promoting practices by talking a walk and spending that time focused on feeling grateful. Start with 5 or 10 minutes of walking and note all the things you are grateful for in your life.
“Walking switches off your autopilot so you can feel alive, be more mindful of your surroundings, and ponder,” writes author Cheryl Rickman. “Within just 10 minutes you feel less stressed. Then you start to notice more, connect more, and become more appreciative.”
What the Science Says
Need more evidence for the positive results of gratitude practices? Studies are revealing that we have a lot to feel grateful for when it comes to gratitude.
Robert A. Emmons, one of the world's leading experts on gratitude, has found that gratitude can help us avoid going down the slippery slope of negative thoughts and emotions when we're stressed and overwhelmed. As the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, he says that a grateful attitude is essential to life.
“In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life,” he writes in his book Gratitude Works! “In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.”
His research shows practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by approximately 25 percent, and that cultivating gratitude can help improve the quality of your sleep and even decrease physical pain in the body.
Researcher Brené Brown has studied gratitude and joy and finds that the people she interviewed “who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.”
Turns out, practicing small acts of gratitude can have a big impact on your health and happiness. Why not start today?
© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies