Do you participate in a regular gratitude practice? Or is gratitude something you focus on just for a season? The holiday season can stir up feelings of warmth, love and joy in people. Many of us start or double down on a gratitude practice as we reflect on the past year or more. Some of us participate in acts of service and helping our communities as a way to show our gratitude or give back. But for many of us, feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, loss, sadness and depression can set in for a variety of reasons. Grief can overtake us, especially after the past few years. All of these feelings are real, valid and true. And it's important to work through and process them, while also making room for positive emotions like gratitude. Research suggests that participating in a gratitude practice of any kind can help.
The thing about gratitude, is that it really is best practiced on a regular basis. It's great if we're extra intentional about acknowledging all we're grateful for during the holiday season, but if this is the only time we're practicing gratitude, we're all missing out.
Being grateful and participating in a gratitude practice is just a small component of something we refer to in Lifestyle Medicine as Positive Psychology. And no, I'm talking about toxic positivity or trying to be positive all of the time, despite all that might be happening in your life or the lives of those around you. I'm talking about making space for and emphasizing the positive things in our lives, our character strengths and behaviors and optimistic emotions. Positive psychology helps us to focus on the things that make life worth living. It doesn't mean that the bad things stop happening or that we should shove those negative feelings down and ignore them. Positive psychology helps adjust our lens and change our perspective when those not so great things happen, which can improve our well-being and quality of life...and in turn, help us to cope, manage and process all of the feelings and emotions that come up when we go through a negative experience. And practicing gratitude is just a small thing we can do that can have a really big impact on our lives.
Practicing gratitude has many benefits. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or take much time. I developed my own gratitude practice several years ago and it’s something I continue to do daily. It’s how I start my day every day. For others, it might be how you end your day. I choose 3-5 specific things that I’m grateful for and write them down in a journal. Specific things are important here because it forces you to look for the smaller or less obvious things throughout your day. It’s ok to choose something like family, friends or health as one of your daily items. I’ve been writing “my health and my family’s health” at the top of my list for the past 3 years since the start of this pandemic because I’m extra grateful for this now. But it’s important to look for other things too. I also think it’s important to write them down or make note of them and put them somewhere where you can see them regularly, rather than keep them in your head. To me, there’s something about seeing it and getting it out into the world that makes them real. Writing them down on a small post it and placing them in places you can see often can help disrupt a negative mood or mindset too.
What are some of the benefits of practicing gratitude, you ask?
It improves self esteem
It improves energy and health
It makes us happier and more optimistic
We become more resilient and deal with adversity better
We are more generous and forgiving of ourselves and others
It keeps us in the present moment instead of drifting to the past or the future
It lowers our stress and anxiety, and improves our overall mood
Gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness. It helps us feel positive emotions, take time to really be present and enjoy the moments and experiences we are in, improve our health, work to build and improve our relationships and help us deal with adversity.
Don't want to start a gratitude journal? There are other things you can do to practice gratitude and show your appreciation:
Write a thank you note, or email or send a thank you message to someone.
Thank someone in person for who they are or something they did.
If you are religious or practice in a specific faith, you can pray.
Sit quietly and meditate for 5-10 minutes. Gratitude often finds its way to you when you get quiet.
My hope is that after reading this, you find some time to fine tune your current gratitude practice, or develop one of your own if you don't already have one. And make it a point to practice it regularly...whether it be daily or weekly. It improves our overall health and well being, helps get us through the hard times, and it doesn't just make you feel good...it makes the people in your life feel good too. If you've made it this far, know that I'm grateful for you.