Gratitude is good for you (and not just for Thanksgiving)

gratitude is good for you and not just for thanksgiving.jpg

Thanksgiving is this Thursday here in the U.S. It is my favorite holiday… free of nonsensical or negative vibes and 100% about savoring all the good in the world. I’ve come back ‘home’ to the Maryland suburbs of DC with my hubby and boys to celebrate this special time with my Mom, brothers, and their families.

And although in true non-conformist fashion we skip the turkey in my family (prime rib is So. Much. Better!), we always take the time to really relish the love of family, the beauty all around us, delicious and plentiful food, and the fun times we have together.

(What’s your favorite holiday? What do you do at Thanksgiving that’s wonderful, if you celebrate? Write me, I wanna know!)

But gratitude is a feeling that is a key to happiness, and it is most definitely not something to save for one day (or week) per year. We really must raise our experience of gratitude all year round.

Today, I’ll give you a couple of reasons why gratitude is good for you (even better than my Jewish grandmother’s chicken soup), backed by science. We’ll look at how you can get goodness out of gratitude in different ways. Finally, I’ll help you discover (or remember) that gratitude can be experienced and expressed in every context of your life.

Gratitude: It does a body (and mind) good

Practicing gratitude has been shown to have dramatic and lasting effects in many different studies. According to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and author of Gratitude Works!, “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.” [Source: Gratitude is Good Medicine]

Just to name a few findings:

  • “Two gratitude activities (counting blessings and gratitude letter writing) reduced the risk of depression in at-risk patients by 41 percent over a six month period.”
  • “Gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol).”
  • Studies also show that practicing gratitude affects behavior, not just biology: Grateful people exercise more, eat better, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and even adhere better to medication regimens.
  • A 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality showed that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. And Dr. Emmons shares that a number of studies show that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly.

Gratitude is really good for you!

So how can you develop a practice of getting more gratitude in your life?

I say you need to find more opportunities to feel, share, and give gratitude.

Feel, share, and give gratitude

Three simple ways, or ‘directions’, to let gratitude flow more plentifully are to feel, share, and give it.

Feel gratitude: We are all capable of feeling grateful, but we sometimes get too busy to notice things we can feel grateful for or about. The practice of cultivating gratitude by feeling it more doesn’t require increasing the good in your life, it’s the practice of noticing and savoring it. You must slow down enough to feel gratitude and capture the felt experience long enough to savor and enjoy it.

For example, I am thankful for a gorgeous sunset almost daily at my house (see below). So I could become desensitized to it – to take it for granted – and therefore stop reaping the gratitude benefits of appreciating this beauty in my life. But I try to savor it, to stop dinner prep and actually gaze at the sunset scenery outside my kitchen window and experience the joy, awe, and gratitude that washes over me in that moment.

One of the many breathtaking sunsets from Halelly's back deck in Cali...

One of the many breathtaking sunsets from Halelly's back deck in Cali...

Share gratitude with others: Once you feel gratitude, you get the benefits of the internal experience. But if you express the experience outwardly and share it with others, you are increasing the benefits to yourself AND allowing others to get some of that goodness also.

So in my example above, enjoying my beautiful sunset gratitude can be a solo experience. But I often call my family to come and see it (my boys don’t really get it, but I am trying…), and frequently feel moved to share a photo (or two, or three) with my extended family and friends on Facebook or Instragram. Now, hundreds of people get to experience this magnificent beauty, to share in my gratitude for it, and perhaps to also feel grateful for this marvel in the world.

Gratitude: multiplied!

Give gratitude: Beyond feeling and sharing your own private gratitude for what’s good with you and your life or environment, you can increase gratitude in yourself and others by appreciating something about them or something they did.

It’s kind of a combination of the first two types of gratitude: you notice and stop to FEEL gratitude for someone. And you SHARE it with them. Now, they feel appreciated and experience gratitude for it. And you made someone feel good, which reflects back to you in the form of the good feeling of making a positive impact on someone else.

It’s more common and obvious to do this for the people in your life, like your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Thank them for a kindness, or for a job well-done (and be sure to use Halelly’s STS formula while you’re at it).

But how about showing gratitude to a stranger who held a door open for you, or to the cashier for smiling at you sincerely, or to the Lyft driver for helping you with your luggage.

Gratitude: multiplied farther!

Gratitude opportunities are everywhere

Adopt a practice of noticing the good, beautiful, and kind everywhere. Be looking for things and people to feel grateful about.

At work: People doing something well, being on time with a deliverable, or even just for offering a fun conversation at the coffee pot. As a leader, the worst thing to do is being a “no news is good news” kind of leader: people will not hear from you until something’s the matter. AWFUL! Feel, share, and give gratitude to as many people as possible, for as little or big an action or attitude as you can. It doesn’t cost more – and it pays!!

At home: So many opportunities to notice people you love being good and lovable and savoring your appreciation plus sharing it with them. You can feel gratitude for your pets, for your view, for warmth, for food in the fridge… Lots of gratitude moments to be captured at home.

Friends and extended family: Savor the gratitude you can stop to feel for your friends, for your community, and for your extended family. Notice the good in them and bonus points for expressing it by sharing it with others and, of course, with them directly.

Beauty and excellence: In nature, art, architecture, food, beauty and excellence are everywhere, but if you don’t pay attention, you will miss it. Look for it – notice it – feel gratitude – savor, express, share. It can be grandiose like magnificent sunsets, and it can be small like a sweet little flower hiding among the rocks. It can be a gourmet meal at a restaurant, and it can be a deliciously ripe piece of fruit. It can be a great song on the radio, and it can be the opportunity to see your favorite band in concert. I could go on, but you get the picture…

Take it a step further and capture your gratitude: 5 gratitude enhancing actionable practices

One of the best ways to up your gratitude game is to create a practice of capturing it. Here are five simple ideas you can implement right away – choose one, do them all, anything is a good move to start and increase your gratitude and well-being.

  1. Write a gratitude journal: Get a notebook and start writing in it every morning and night (or just choose one of them if twice a day feels like too much) what you’re grateful for.
     
  2. Count your blessings: I used to do this with my kids – instead of writing what you’re grateful for in a notebook, just say out loud (or think quietly) right before bed what happened that day that you feel gratitude about. We called it “three good things”.
     
  3. Write a gratitude letter: Think of a person who had a significant positive impact on your life – even if it was many years ago – and write them a letter about what they did for you and how you appreciate them. Just the act of writing this letter will bring you a greater feeling of well-being, but when you deliver the letter, just imagine the happiness you will create for the other person! Best practice: visit them and read the letter to them before handing it over. Talk about a WOW experience.
     
  4. Write thank you notes: Keep a stack of thank you cards in your desk and/or bag and make it a practice that when you FEEL it, you share your gratitude as soon as possible thereafter with the person you appreciated. Write a simple note specifically expressing what you’re grateful about and either hand-deliver it or send it in the post. It’s a lost art and it will instantly make you more special to that person, more memorable, and increase their felt gratitude and your own immensely.
     
  5. Keep a “jar of awesome”: An idea I learned from one of my favorite bloggers, podcasters, and authors, Tim Ferriss is the Jar of Awesome. Take a mason jar (any jar will do) and each time you experience gratitude, capture the moment on a small piece of paper, roll it up or fold it small and deposit it into the jar (think fortune cookies). The jar will fill up and whenever you feel a low moment, when things look bleak, pull out some of those notes from the jar and recall those moments fondly. You’ll instantly feel better and rejuvenate your gratitude and well-being.

Sum-up

  • Gratitude is good for you, backed by science.
  • You can increase your gratitude by slowing down to feel, share, and give it more often.
  • Opportunities to be grateful are all around – at work, at home, with friends and family and in every nook and cranny.
  • There are many ways to actively capture your gratitude, including via journaling, counting your blessings, writing a gratitude letter and thank you notes, and keeping a jar of awesome.

Your turn

What gratitude practice will you try to add to your routine? Make a commitment in the comments below and come back to share your results. I’d love to know!


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