If I said you could do something right now that could make you a lot happier for the rest of the month, would you do it?
This is the beauty of gratitude. Gratitude is the practice of appreciating what we have, instead of what we lack. It’s good to have life goals and to strive to achieve them. But it’s also important to realise that we can be happy right now, we don’t need to wait until we’ve achieved everything before we can feel satisfied.
The practice of gratitude also has some powerful and surprising benefits.
Research participants who actively practiced gratitude have demonstrated things like higher happiness scores, better relationships with others, increased exercise levels, and fewer visits to the doctor, than participants who did not focus on gratitude.
In one study from the University of Pennsylvania, participants were asked to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Not only did these participants immediately show a huge increase in happiness scores, the benefits were shown to last for an entire month. A month! I think that’s an impressive result from just a single activity.
There are lots of fun ways to practice gratitude. It may feel a little forced at first, and it takes active effort to start paying attention to the positives in life. But with practice, and as the benefits start to show, it should become easier and more automatic. With time, you can train yourself into a new mindset that naturally picks up on the positives in every scenario.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Count your blessings. Each evening, or on a chosen day each week, sit down and reflect on what’s going well for you. You might want to write your responses in a journal, or make it into a family game. If you have kids, what better skill to pass down to them than teaching them how to be thankful. Go around the table and each person says three things that they’re grateful for this week and why. Each week it should be three new things, and try to include the small things as well as the big things. One week you might be really excited that you got a promotion at work, another week you’re just glad that you had coffee to get you through.
Write a thank-you letter. This one can lift your mood, and can do the same for someone else, not to mention enriching your relationship with them. Think of someone who you appreciate and write a note, as long or as short as you like, explaining why. Write about ways they’ve helped you and what impact this has had on your life. It might be one big thing, or lots of little things. You might be amazed at what you come up with, and they might be even more surprised, since often we have no idea of the impact we have on others. Either way, this one’s a winner for everyone.
If you don’t want to send the letter, you don’t have to. It’s still effective to write it and keep it to yourself. Maybe writing it will prompt you to say thanks to that person the next time you speak to them. No matter what, this exercise can get you paying attention to the good that others bring to your life, and this can improve your mood and your relationships.
There are so many other ways to practice gratitude which we’ll look at later, but I hope this helps to get you started.