There is a wealth of research and theory around the practice of gratitude, so let's see what it is exactly, what it can do for you and how you can start more thankfully today.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is a tricky word that has escaped a clear definition in the past – is it a feeling, a thought process, an action or something else?
Robert Emmons, a leading researcher into gratitude, simply puts it: gratitude is a confirmation of the goodness that exists outside of ourselves. It is the action of acknowledging that life is not all bad. Hopefully there is at least one good thing in your life right now, although it may feel small.
For example, I am grateful this morning that the sun is shining and that I did not have to wait too long for the pedestrian crossing outside my apartment. Practicing gratitude means training yourself to look for that one (or more) good and to be happy that it is in your life.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
Practicing gratitude sounds a bit wishy washy, right? In fact it appears that it has demonstrable effects on your social relationships, outlook on life and personal well-being.
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude causes people to offer more emotional support and help to those in need. A study with fMRI monitoring of brain activity showed an increased neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with gratitude, three months after the patients had done their gratitude exercise.
These findings can be partially explained by the simple theory that gratitude changes our outlook on life. When we train ourselves to look for blessings in our lives, we find them more often. We see that people have actually been friendlier, more helpful and good, and in return we are giving the same blessings back to those around us.
Gratitude also has a pronounced effect on two important areas of well-being – sleep and. The list goes on – exercising gratitude has been associated with less worrying, increasing your resilience to and relieving stress . It is difficult to prove a causal link with gratitude, but this research suggests a strong relationship between gratitude and mental well-being .
In addition to a conscious effort to say "thank you" every time someone does something, it is nice for you, there are several ways you can get creative by including gratitude in your daily routine. View five ways to practice gratitude below.
1. Keep a thanks diary
Writing down a list of things that you are grateful for may be the most obvious method, but it has been proven. Find a frequency that works for you, whether it is writing one thing per day or five things at the end of the week. The most important thing is to make them as specific as possible – I could write down every day that I am grateful for my cat, but something that stands out better is that she slept on my bed one night while my feet were cold.
If you don't like to put pen on paper, you can download a number of apps for free to help. In addition to using a simple Notes app, Gratitude is a great option for a user-friendly diary on your phone. This allows you to attach photos, synchronize with Google Drive and set reminders for your daily gratitude.
2. Use a gratitude pot
A gratitude spot is simple – all you need is an old Mason jar and pieces of paper to write on. Whenever something happens that you are grateful for, write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. After a year, or when your pot is full, you have a lot of great memories to look back on with your loved ones.
3. Document your life
Do you remember the app for 1 second daily video diary? It is a smart way to practice gratitude. Every day you film a second of something that made you grateful, and at the end of the year you have a compilation of happy moments to remind you that sometimes life can be good.
4. Medi Tate
We usually consideras an exercise for mindfulness in which we try to focus on the present moment and think of nothing, but that is only the surface of the complicated tradition of meditation. Another type of ancient art involves meditating on certain ideas or sensations, including gratitude. This exercise kills two birds with one stone – you get all the proven benefits of gratitude and meditation at the same time.
There are numerous free guided gratitude meditations online, and some paid apps such as Headspace also have sessions focused on gratitude.
5. Practice gratitude in the community
Don't you just love social media? For some of us, all the gratitude practices listed above sound terribly boring, and we prefer to spend that extra time tapping our phones. The app Gratitude Circle offers a nice solution to this problem by combining a Facebook-type community with a gratitude practice.
You can make people online friends, post moments of gratitude with attached photos and browse your feed to see everyone's gratitude. This way you get your gratitude practice without giving up valuable social media time.