Maybe you've heard of "gratitude practices" before. It's definitely gaining popularity, and with good reason! But why? What is a "gratitude practice" and why has it become so popular? In this article, we'll look at what gratitude is, why it's so good for your mental health, and how you can cultivate a gratitude practice that helps you AND your family become happier and emotionally healthier!
Why is Gratitude Good for You?
Robert Emmons is one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude. He's an American psychologist and he has spent much of his career studying gratitude. In his research, he has identified multiple reasons why gratitude is so important for us! In his article, "Why is Gratitude Good," he shares some of the benefits that a consistent gratitude practice can have on people, including:
> Stronger immune systems
> Lower blood pressure
> Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
> Higher levels of positive emotions
> More alert, alive, and awake
> More optimism and happiness
> More helpful, generous, and compassionate
> More outgoing
> Less feelings of loneliness
That's a lot of good stuff, if you ask me. And that's just SOME of the benefits he mentions. You can certainly check out his article to learn more about them.
I'm always up for a simple ritual that can positively impact my daily life, and having a daily gratitude practice can certainly do that. But what is "gratitude" anyway, and what's a "gratitude practice"?
If you were to google the word "gratitude," you would be presented with the following definition:
"the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness"
I don't know about you, but I don't find the definition all that helpful. So I went back to our expert, Robert Emmons. He did a much better job of breaking down gratitude. He explained:
“First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received..... we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
Essentially then, gratitude is:
1. Affirmation of goodness
2. Recognizing the source of "goodness" comes from something outside of ourselves
That's certainly more helpful! We can see that "gratitude" has 2 parts. This leads us to our final task of determining what a "gratitude practice" is, and how can you apply it to your daily life?
Developing a Daily Gratitude Practice
A "gratitude practice" is the act of recognizing something "good" or "positive" in your life in some way. This might be by verbalizing the goodness or writing it down. It's that simple! The key to making this practice effective for you is to do it on a daily basis. That's how you reap all of those benefits Emmons talks about in his article. The key is consistency!
There are multiple ways you can begin incorporating gratitude. Consider some of these examples:
1. Prayer - Many individuals who have a spiritual practice naturally incorporate gratitude in the action of prayer. If you pray, make sure you acknowledge at least 3 things you are grateful for.
2. Gratitude Journal - This is a popular technique in depression treatment. Take a notebook that you keep beside your bed. Each night before sleeping, write down 3 things you are grateful for. For an extra challenge, try to pick 3 things from the last 24 hours. On good days, this will be easy, but on bad days, finding 3 things from the last 24 hours might be tough. That's ok! The more you work that brain into looking for the good things in your life (even in turbulent times), the more you are exercising your brain's ability to find the positive in any situation. This contributes to resiliency!
3. Verbalize Your Gratitude - If writing and praying aren't your thing, you can try this exercise instead. Find a time in the day where you can speak aloud to yourself. Verbalize 3 things you are grateful for. For an extra challenge, briefly explain to yourself WHY you are grateful for those 3 things you identified. Many people can list off 3 things they're grateful for, but it can be a little harder to acknowledge why these things are important to you. This extra step helps you to develop insight into your own self, grows the feeling of gratitude, and really exercises your brain. I do this daily on my commute to work, but it can be while you're showering, taking a walk, or just settling down for the night in the comfort of your bed. Just make sure you verbalize it!
4. Family/Couples Gratitude Practice - Here's a fun twist to gratitude practices if you are living with a partner or other family members. Find a consistent time where you are with the other people in your home. This might be when you are lying in bed with your spouse or before enjoying dinner together at night. Take turns sharing something you are grateful for about the other person. For example, before going to bed, I might tell my husband how much I appreciate his help with the dishes, and he might share with me that he's grateful for my efforts with doing the laundry. Before dinner, I might tell my daughter how grateful I am for her hard work in school that day, and I might tell my son how much I appreciate his sense of humor.
This twist on gratitude practices is extremely healthy for couples and families! It helps us to recognize the good things each person does or contributes to the relationship and/or household, and it helps each person to feel appreciated! And don't we all like to feel appreciated by our loved ones? I know I do! This helps to build up self-esteem, self-confidence, and an overall feeling of happiness. You might be surprised by what your family shares with you!
It's Your Turn!
I challenge you to start a gratitude practice. And if you are married or have a family, I strongly encourage you to try out the Family/Couples Gratitude Practice. You may not notice all of these benefits right away. Remember, it takes consistency in order for you to reap these benefits.
Make a goal to try it out for 1 month and see what you notice! You might find yourself seeing the silver-lining of a bad day a little easier, or you might notice that stuff doesn't seem to impact you as much. With your partner or family, you might see that they start to do those things you were grateful for a little more often. (I noticed my husband started doing the dishes more often without me having to ask or mention them!)
Gratitude is a powerful thing, and it's such an easy practice to incorporate in your daily life. Try it out! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!