It’s the season of giving, but it’s also a season for reflecting on what you already have. Gratitude is a powerful emotion. It’s uplifting in the moment, and it’s beneficial for your life overall. Studies have shown that gratitude “can improve general well-being, increase resilience, strengthen social relationships, and reduce stress and depression.” Greater feelings of thankfulness are associated with a better sense of well-being and life satisfaction. There are physical effects as well. People who practice gratitude have been shown to have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and experience better sleep.
Having a gratitude practice is beneficial for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, as well as those with mental health concerns. That’s particularly important this time of year because our festive, happy feelings can also be tinged with sadness, anxiety, and depression.
A study from the University of California at Berkeley found that gratitude helps even if you don’t share it. But making your practice social can make it even more powerful. Psychologist Robert Emmons has suggested that by focusing gratitude on people rather than circumstances or material objects can make the practice even more powerful.
Five Ways to Express Gratitude
1. Write a thank you note.
Expressing your appreciation to another person for their impact on your life, big or small, is powerful. Studies suggest it will not only nurture your relationship with the other person, but it will also make you happier. There may be some benefit to thanking the person mentally if a physical expression via a letter, email, or text isn’t possible.
2. Keep a gratitude journal.
Writing in a gratitude journal keeps your thankfulness fresh in your mind. It also changes the way you perceive the world. Knowing that you’ll need to write down something you’re grateful for will make you tune into what you’re thankful for as you move through your life.
Here are a few tips to make the most of gratitude journaling:
- Be specific. Record a specific moment that made you grateful for your partner that day, rather than jotting down, “I’m thankful for my partner.”
- Try subtraction, rather than addition. If trying to journal is making your mind go blank, try imaging what your life would be like without certain people or things. Or consider all the negative outcomes you’ve avoided or prevented. Your grateful thoughts will soon flow.
- Tap into gratitude prompts. If your pen is frozen on the page, tap into your senses to find items for which you’re thankful. For example, list three things you’re grateful for that you can hear, see, smell, touch/feel, and taste.
- Write regularly. The science is still out on whether writing a few times a week or daily is more helpful. What’s clear is that writing regularly is most helpful. Pick a frequency that works for you and honor that promise to yourself.
3. Count your blessings.
Set a time every week to sit down and write out what you’re grateful for. It may be helpful to pick a set number of items that you’ll identify every week. If you set a high number, it may help you push beyond the standard things you might be thankful for (such as your health), into more items specific to you or that bring you simple pleasures.
Meditation brings your awareness to the present moment without judgement as to whether your experience is good or bad. If you want to cultivate a gratitude meditation practice, you can also use this quiet time to focus on what you’re thankful for. You can also take this activity on the road by going for a gratitude walk, during which you focus your thoughts on things you appreciate.
5. Create a gratitude jar.
A gratitude jar will help you collect moments of thankfulness and remind you of great events, circumstances, or material items in your life when you need them. Gather a jar (or box, if you prefer), decorate it as you wish, then begin to record appreciations. Each day, write something you’re grateful for on a piece of paper and slip it in the jar. Over time, you’ll fill the vessel. If ever you need a pick-me-up, take a few slips of paper out and read them. They’ll immediately remind you of the best parts of your life.
Research studies have shown that the benefits of gratitude writing take time to accrue. So, keep it up! Fortunately, the studies have also shown that once a thankfulness practice has been established, it makes a lasting effect on the brain. Study participants who wrote about their gratitude gave more money to a cause and showed greater sensitivity in the area of the brain associated with learning and decision making. This suggested to researchers that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to expressing gratitude in the long run.
We hope these tips help you focus on everything you have to be grateful for this season. We certainly appreciate having you as part of the State ECU community!