Gratitude is the act of bringing our attention to and appreciating the positive aspects of our lives. It is also an emotion linked with feelings of kindness and compassion for the world at large. Infusing your life with gratitude can be a powerful impetus of shifting your perspective from one of lack and uncertainty to one filled with appreciation, wonder, love, joy, and abundance. We can cultivate gratitude by starting a practice of pausing to show thankfulness to life’s beautiful moments.
Gratitude practice keeps us from taking the good things in our lives, no matter how seemingly small, for granted. It emphasizes positive experiences instead of getting bogged down by things that didn’t go as planned or by stress and disappointment. Looking through the lens of gratitude on our past, we remember moments of love and joy. Gratitude helps us reframe our present perspectives even in the midst of troubling times and illness.2 For the future, gratitude gives us confidence and hope. Anyone is able to begin a gratitude practice, no matter what life looks like or feels at the present.
There are a number of scientific studies promoting the benefits of gratitude on personal and social spheres. Individuals who wrote gratitude journals had less symptoms of depression and were more likely to positively reframe stressful events, improving emotional well-being and resilience.4 Other studies show that grateful thinking not only improves mood, but reduces feelings of stress and supports overall well-being and happiness.1, 5-7 Additionally, gratitude practice increases individuals’ ability to cope and maintain well-being during times of stress and difficulty.4, 7 A study on those with chronic health concerns showed that gratitude improved quality of sleep, reduced fatigue, and lowered markers of inflammation, improving prognosis.5 Socially, focusing on the positive aspects of life may increase the desire to benefit others over one’s self for the greater good.3
Over the past decade, I have started and restarted my gratitude practice. Sometimes it was written, and sometimes it looked more like meditation. It wasn’t always easy to do and still, some days are easier than others.
I started my current gratitude practice just over a year ago. At the end of each day, before I get into bed, I open my journal and mark the date and day of the week. Then, I write, “I am grateful….” Each day, I write at least three statements of gratitude. Sometimes, if the day felt like a struggle, it takes time to think of what to say. On these days, it might look something like, “I am grateful for food on the table for nourishment. I am grateful for clean water to drink, cook, and bathe. I am grateful for the flowers, trees, birds, animals, ocean, sun, sky, moon, and stars.” And then I remember how wonderful it is to be able to appreciate these things.
Sometimes, there are days where my heart sings as I fill a page with, “I am grateful…” after “I am grateful…” followed by shared laughter with friends, shared meals with family, a calm walk through the woods, taking time to be creative, satisfaction from completing a task for work. These days often end with, “I am grateful for all the love in my life. I am grateful to be alive.” Most days fall between these extremes and they bring the most meaning to my journal. After writing what I am grateful for at the end of an average day, it doesn’t feel so average. Suddenly, the day feels just as beautiful as when the page is filled with my singing heart.
Since beginning this practice, I have started to pause throughout the day to soak up moments of love, wonder, and beauty. During these pauses, I think, “I am grateful for this,” “I am grateful for you,” or just, “wow” as I feel my heart open. I offer my gratitude to family, friends, kind strangers, animals, plants, events, and feelings. I have become better at accepting help and gifts from those around me because I have this gratitude and love to offer in return. And as I do this, I feel more present, grounded, connected, happy, content, and alive.
If you feel called to start your own gratitude practice, it doesn’t have to look anything like mine. As you drink your morning coffee or cup of tea, you can be grateful for its warmth and smell and begin listing other things you appreciate. You can take time throughout your day to notice moments that are positive and filled with contentment. You can keep a notebook with you and mark down, “I am grateful for… this moment of fresh air and blue skies, surrounded by trees.” Or, like me, at the end of the day, you can go back and focus on the things that went right, gave you a smile, or touched your heart and let those stand out. This allows the frustrations, difficulties, and stress that may have arisen to fade into the background. It might not be an easy thing to start, but over time you may look forward to it.
Gratitude reminds us that life is worth living and enjoying. When sometimes it is easy to feel like there is little hope for the future, gratitude reminds us of the beautiful moments in life. It refocuses our attention on the kindness and love that exists and is shared between family, friends, and even strangers. Gratitude reminds us that there is always hope.
Do you already have a gratitude practice? Are you interested in starting one? Tell me about it! I would love to hear from you.
Cheng, S T, P K Tsui, and J H Lam. “Improving mental health in health care practitioners: randomized controlled trial of gratitude intervention.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 83, no. 1, 177-186. Feb 2015. PubMed, doi: 10.1037/a0037895.
Fredrickson, BL et al. “What Good Are Positive Emotions in Crises? A Prospective Study of Resilience and Emotions Following the Terrorist Attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001.” Journal of personality and social psychology, vol. 84, no. 2, 365-376. Feb 2003. NIH Public Access, PMC2755263.
Karns, Christina M, William E Moore III, and Ulrich Mayr. “The Cultivation of Pure Altruism via Gratitude: A Functional MRI Study of Change with Gratitude Practice.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 11. Dec 2017. PubMed, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00599.
Lambert, Nathaniel M, Frank D Fincham, and Tyler F Stillman. “Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion.” Cognition and Emotion, vol. 26, no. 4, 615-633. Sept 2011. PubMed, doi: 10.1080/02699931.2011.595393.
Mills, Paul et al. “The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients.” Spirituality in Clinical Practice, vol. 2, no. 1, 5-17. March 2015. HHS Public Access, doi: 10.1037/scp0000050.
Watkins, Philip et al. “Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being.” Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, vol. 31, no. 5, 431-451. Jan 2003. Research Gate, doi: 10.2224/sbp.2003.31.5.431.
Wood, A M, J J Froh, and A W Geraghty. “Gratitude and well-being: a review and theoretical integration.” Clinical Phychology Review, vol. 30, no. 7, 890-905. Nov 2010. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005.