This week’s tip: Practice gratitude.
First things first — I’d like to take a moment to thank you for reading this. I am so unbelievably grateful to you. Now, second — I’d like you to pause for a moment to thank yourself for taking some time to consider ways to improve your wellbeing. YOU should be grateful that you have found the motivation to take this little step towards owning your happiness and finding your wings.
Doesn’t gratitude feel good? My heart already feels fuller. Pausing to appreciate some good things in our day allows us to slow down, open our hearts, and magnify the present moment. And in case you haven’t heard, the scientifically-proven benefits of practicing gratitude are astounding. (Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, Ph.D. shares an overview in this article, and the Greater Good Science Center expands on his ideas in their definition of gratitude.)
A consistent gratitude practice can:
- Boost positivity, optimism, and joy
- Enhance relationships
- Increase altruism and compassion for others
- Strengthen our immune systems and lower blood pressure (!)
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Combat feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Help us feel more connected with the people and the world around us
Not sure how to start your practice? Here are 10 ways you can cultivate gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Take a few moments each day to write down 5 things from the day that you are thankful for. I keep my journal by my bedside and try to remember to write in it each night before bed. My journal was a gift from a friend (thank you again, Jessica!), but yours could be anything from a special journal that makes you want to write in it to a simple composition notebook. Or, type your gratitude notes in a note-taking app like Evernote — or even in a Word Doc!
- Tell someone “thanks”. Write a spontaneous thank you note, or tell someone how grateful you are for them via text, email, or a phone call. It will make you and someone else feel good. When I was struggling with feeling depressed last year, one of the things that helped lift my mood was writing thank you letters to some of my friends and family for being there for me. It made me feel good in the moment to appreciate their support, and it made me feel good AGAIN in a few days when they expressed thanks for receiving the note.
- Schedule a time for a weekly gratitude reflection. Sometimes putting something on your calendar can help cement a habit. Set a reminder to spend 10-15 minutes per week writing down things you are grateful for. My friend Karen inspired me with this idea when she coordinated an optional recurring meeting at my office for a weekly gratitude reflection. I created a worksheet based on her practice in case you want to try it with us. We meet on Tuesdays at 11:15am — it coordinates well with Project Happiness’ #gratiTuesday!
- Share your gratitude online. There are so many places you can share your gratitude online. Check out thnx4.org, an online gratitude community, or share something you are grateful for on social media. Gratitude is contagious.
- Note your thanks to yourself. Your gratitude practice can be completely internal. Simply note what you are thankful for in your mind. Say a prayer of thanks to your god(s), or to the universe, for the wonderful things in your life. Meditate on gratitude. Take a gratitude walk and dedicate 15 minutes to appreciating everything around you, paying attention to your senses and your thoughts.
- Make a gratitude collage. For those who enjoy art or more tangible self-expression, a gratitude collage is a great way to appreciate the present moment and reflect on things you love. Print out some meaningful photos or cut up symbolic images from magazines to create a personal work of art that can remind you on a daily basis of all of the things you are grateful for.
- Write a reverse bucket list. I came across this idea the other day from Kara of bohoberry.com — and I love it. Rather than writing a list of all of the things you hope to do in your lifetime… reflect on all of the things you’ve already had the opportunity to do! The hope is that if you approach the exercise with a grateful mindset, your gratitude will grow exponentially and you’ll be filled with pride for your accomplishments.
- Use a gratitude app. If you’re always on the go and aren’t sure you’ll have time to schedule a pause in your day, a gratitude app might be a good for you. Although I haven’t tried it out yet, the Gratitude Journal app ($2.99 on the App Store) looks really great. It helps you create a gratitude habit, allowing you to set reminders for writing what you are grateful for. It looks like a beautiful user interface — if anyone tries it, I’d love to hear what you think!
- Neutralize a negative experience with gratitude. It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well. But what about during hard times? Gratitude can help us turn a negative experience around. Is your mood so low that even a rainy, dreary day can’t make you feel worse? You could say thank you to your mood, for allowing you to see the rain as something uplifting. Are you so sick that you are stuck at home in bed for days? You could be grateful for the opportunity to be forced to slow down. This approach is definitely difficult, but with practice, it can give us a new perspective on life’s challenges. This video from Marlene of EkhartYoga inspired me to embrace this practice.
- Notice the world around you with awe. This earth that we live on is awesome. Nature is awesome. The people we love are awesome. Take a moment each day to appreciate the beauty and goodness all around you. In his awe-inspiring TEDx Talk, Louie Schwartzberg sets the tone for living every day of your life with this perspective. If you click just one link from this entire post, let it be this one. This video brought tears to my eyes and made me feel overwhelmed with awe and gratitude.
You can be grateful for people: for loved ones, for the stranger in the subway station who smiles at you each morning, for the difficult person in your life who teaches you patience. You can be grateful for places (your home, your bed, this earth) or things (a treasure, a delicious meal, your bike). You can say thank you for sensations like the feeling of the sun on your skin or the comforting smell of apple pie. Or, you can express gratitude for big things — like opportunity, or health, or love.
Start your gratitude practice with me right now. What are you grateful for?