My days rarely go according to plan or without unexpected challenges. Sometimes I can naturally appreciate the sweet moments as they happen throughout the day, but sometimes I need to cultivate this sense of appreciation. Either way, getting through life's unexpected challenges is nearly impossible for me without a healthy practice of gratitude.
What is gratitude exactly? It's our emotion that relates to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. Traditionally, this emotion has been relegated to the fields of theology and philosophy.
In 2007, Robert Emmons began researching gratitude with science. He found that expressing gratitude improves mental, physical, and relational well-being. Being grateful also impacts the overall experience of happiness, and these effects tend to be long-lasting. The key findings were:
- Improved physical and emotional well-being
- Greater optimism and happiness
- Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crises
- Increased self-esteem
- Heightened energy levels
- Strengthened heart, immune system, and decreased blood pressure
- Improved emotional and academic intelligence
- Expanded capacity for forgiveness
- Decreased stress, anxiety, depression, and headaches
- Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
- Heightened spirituality--the ability to see something bigger than ourselves
I think the best way to cultivate gratitude is by keeping a "gratitude journal" and recording experiences that you are grateful for every day. Once you spend your day looking for things to be grateful for, you start living in gratitude all the time!
I write down 5 things every day that I'm grateful for and not the big things like my family and my house, etc. But the little things like noting small things in nature, an object of beauty, a pleasant conversation with a friend, a good cup of coffee, someone letting me into traffic, or someone letting me help them with a problem.
My tips for cultivating gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal by your bed and write in it each night 3-5 things you're grateful for.
- Take 2-5 minutes each day to really think about all the things you're grateful for, and focus on feeling the gratitude. Let it overwhelm you!
- Say thank you often.
- Linger on positive thoughts or moments during the day.
- Write thank-you notes!
- Practice not gossiping, complaining, or judging. Resist the urge, and it will become second nature.
- Write down what you appreciate about yourself!