Four Ways You Can Enrich Your Life with Gratitude

Four Ways You Can Enrich Your Life with Gratitude

This is such powerful practice to increase your happiness, be healthier, and have peace of mind.

4_Ways_Gratitude_AttributeAs we move into this time of year, it is one that is enriched by a life lived with a sense of gratitude. It can seem so simple, yet it is very powerful in keeping us healthy and happy.

It is only been in this century that scientists have started to delve into what impact being thankful has on us. This practice has been a common sense spiritual teaching over the millenniums. Now it has been taken into social science laboratories, and we can see that it works in wondrous ways.

Often we are faced with difficult circumstances in the second half of life, such as caregiving of loved ones and declining health. It is especially important to develop a habit of gratitude to help with the stresses and potential discouragement.

There are two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E McCullough of the University of Miami who have done research on gratitude, which was published in 2003.

In their research, they assigned people to three groups. The first wrote about five things they were grateful for that happened during the week. The second group wrote about five things that irritated them during the week. The third group wrote about events that happened during the week, with no instructions to write about any specific type of events. They did this for ten weeks, and then the groups were compared. Those who wrote about the things they were grateful for were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They even exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor than the group who wrote about things that irritated them. In one of the studies, it was shown that the greatest benefit occurred after continuing for six months or more with a gratitude practice.

Another leading researcher in this field is Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and the director of the Positive Psychology Center. He set up a scientific study where one group was tasked with writing a letter to someone who they had never properly thanked for a kindness in their past, and to personally deliver the thank you letter to them. The other group did some writing about some of their early memories. The group who wrote the gratitude letters immediately exhibited a large increase in the measures of happiness at the end of the study. This increase lasted until another measure was taken a month later.

Grateful people tend to be more optimistic, and researchers have shown this boosts their immune systems.

Developing a habit of gratitude can expand your sense of peace, and help you focus on the good that you have in your life. It may take starting with the smallest of things, especially if you have had some difficult circumstances in your life. It may be as simple as being thankful for life, for the sunshine, for the people in your life. Once you get the flow going, you will find more and that you are thankful for.

I think it is worth taking into the laboratory of your life, and seeing how it works for you. Here are some ideas to help you develop this practice:

  1. Get out of bed with a sense of gratitude. A good way to do this by waking up in the morning and approach the day with a sense of anticipation. I love the way Maya Angelou expressed this – “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” Take a moment to stretch and ease yourself into the day as you do this.
  2. Keep a Gratitude Journal – In an article written by Lousie Jensen, she suggests some ways that will make this practice effective. The important thing is to develop a practice that you do every day, and to have a consistent time and place to do this, such as at bedtime. Don’t be a slave to just that one time of day, because you will start to notice things more and more, and may want to write them down right away. Approach this with an intention of being conscious of things in your life you are grateful for, and you will find that the things you are grateful for seem to multiply. If you take some time and elaborate on these things, it will provide a rich resource. Going back and looking your gratitude journals will bring continuing joy. Be creative as you develop this practice, and open to other ways of incorporating things you are thankful for. This could include photos, tickets from events you’ve enjoyed, and even drawings. Continue this practice on a daily basis for at least 21 days, to make it a happiness habit.
  3. Express gratitude to others on a daily basis – This is especially important for those in your daily life. Notice what you appreciate about them, and tell them often. Thank those who do those mundane things that make life flow, like the cashier at the store, or person who is leading a class you are in. To take it even further, you could write thank you notes to give or send to others. Remember the letter writing study that Dr. Seligman did.
  4. Give thanks mentally during odd moments throughout the day – When you notice something such as a kindness or a smile, you can just say words of gratitude in your mind.

This time of the year when we celebrate Thanksgiving, and the bounty of our lives, think about developing an ongoing gratitude way of life. If you do, you will probably look back next year around this time, and see how much fuller and richer your life has become.

Author: Linda Marsolek for Designing Brighter Tomorrows

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