The Importance of Practicing Gratitude

As the calendar inches toward Thanksgiving, many people’s thoughts will naturally turn to family meals, decorations and times of thankfulness. A holiday built around the idea of being thankful is a unique thing to celebrate. But gratitude doesn’t have to be something we take to heart just once a year.   

Did you know that the act of practicing gratitude on a regular basis can have long-lasting and positive impacts on your physical and mental health? In fact, it can boost your self-esteem and even help you get a good night’s sleep, studies have shown, according to Psychology Today. But for many people, it takes a little work. Actively being grateful may not be instinctual, and it can take some deliberate steps to make this part of a daily routine. 

What is practicing gratitude?  

Practicing gratitude is best described as the act of being thankful and appreciative of what is good in your life. These could be tangible items like your home and favorite belongings or intangible things like the love you have for your family and close connections to friends and coworkers. It can mean thinking about how grateful you are for things that happened in your childhood or at other points in your past. And it can be forward-looking, focusing on your future with these same optimistic feelings. 

Research has shown that setting aside time to practice gratitude not only makes people feel happier about their lives, but can improve their mental health, allowing them to better deal with challenges and forge stronger relationships with others, according to Harvard Health. 

In one gratitude study, a group of people were asked to write weekly journal entries detailing little things they were grateful for, while another group was asked to write a weekly list of things that had irritated them. The participants who focused on gratitude finished the 10-week study feeling happier and more optimistic about their lives, compared to the group that had focused on the negative things. 

Making gratitude a habit takes some work at first. Here are some ways to get started: 

  • Keep a gratitude journal: Like the participants in the study, keeping track of what you are thankful for is a good way to regularly reinforce a positive mindset. You might jot down what you appreciate about certain people, reasons you love your job, or things in your life you are looking forward to. 
  • Share your gratitude with others: If you are grateful to have someone in your life, let them know. These positive affirmations strengthen the bonds we have with a partner, family and close friends. 
  • Write someone a thank-you note or email: Want to express your gratitude long-distance? Craft a personal email or write a short note, letting that person know what you are thankful for.  
  • Pay it forward: You can spread gratitude by sparking it in someone else. Share your positive attitude by paying the bill of the person behind you in the coffee shop line, at the drive-thru, or sitting near you in a restaurant.  
  • Give back: If you’re at a point in your life where you are grateful for all that you have, one way to show that is by volunteering your time or skills to help others. You’ll enjoy the positive feelings this will bring, and you will be giving others a reason to feel gratitude. 

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Photo credit: Getty 

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