Giving Thanks, Practicing Gratitude
As we approach the fall and winter months, and the various holidays celebrated during these seasons, many of us may turn our minds to the things for which we are grateful. We take stock, we count our blessings, and we take a moment or two to feel gratitude for the things that are going well in our lives. For many of us, this process may happen formally a few times a year, and then we tend to move on with our daily lives.
In recent years, researchers have been exploring the impact of gratitude on psychological well-being. Studies have shown that a regular, intentional gratitude practice may increase happiness, life satisfaction, quality of sleep, and mental and physical health, and may also lift our spirits, help us feel more connected in our relationships, and encourage us to find more things to enjoy in life.
Although the benefits are clear, it can sometimes be difficult to notice the positive aspects of our lives. This may be even more difficult when an individual is struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression. So, how can someone take advantage of the benefits of a gratitude practice? Where do we begin?
First, it is important to understand what a gratitude practice actually entails. In short, practicing gratitude involves purposefully taking the time and making the effort to direct your attention to the things that are going well in your life. It means diverting your attention to the highlights of your day and taking a moment to savor the positive feelings that may follow. It takes commitment, and it takes intention. If this seems unmanageable, the trick is to start small, focusing on small points in your day or life that usually go unnoticed. Common targets for gratitude may include: pleasant moments in the day, time spent with loved ones, eating something tasty, a restorative nap, a good conversation, a smile, a point of learning or improvement, any kind of progress, time spent in nature, accomplishments or successes, health, acts of kindness, personal strengths, possibilities for the future, things around us that we may take for granted (e.g. our homes, conveniences), and valued people in our lives.
Here are some practical strategies for starting a gratitude practice of your own:
- Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal, making note of 2-5 things you are grateful for. Briefly describe each one, noting why it is meaningful or special to you. Take a moment to appreciate this, and savor any positive feelings that arise.
- Start a gratitude ritual. This could involve sitting with your family at dinnertime, and each taking the time to comment on one thing they are grateful for that day. Or, you might choose to share a social media post once a week outlining what you are grateful for in your life.
- Practice directly expressing genuine gratitude to others in your life. You might write a thank-you letter, thank someone mentally, or get in the habit of verbally expressing your gratitude to a friend, loved one, or coworker each day.
- If you are spiritual or religious, you may incorporate gratitude into your prayers.
How might you incorporate a gratitude practice into your day?
Yours in gratitude,
Author: Jennifer Baker, MEd, RCC, PMH-C
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