From improving your health to your mood, consciously practicing gratitude may be one of the most effective actions you can take to increase your happiness.
Part I of this article described the benefits and reasons for practicing gratitude. If you’re ready to get started, try one of the simple practices below and make 2015 your most joyous holiday season yet.
Simple Practices to Bring Gratitude into Your Life:
1. Start a weekly gratitude journal:
This is probably the simplest and most effective way to practice gratitude. Lyubomirsky’s research found that study volunteers who were assigned to the exercise of reflecting over the past week and writing down five things for which they were grateful experienced improvements in thankfulness and appreciation. Additionally, participants who regularly practiced this activity reported significantly bigger increases in their happiness. While you might think that a more frequent practice would result in a greater impact, the opposite was actually true. Participants assigned to journal multiple times during the week found the task to be more of a chore and received less benefit. The take home? Set aside a convenient time each week to reflect and identify a few things for which you are grateful and take the time to write them down.
2. Fill a Treasure Chest:
An alternative to keeping your notes in a journal, is to write them on a piece of paper and place them in a specific jar or box placed where you will see it. Simply seeing that daily reminder can be helpful in helping you to slow down and remember the good things in your life. During rough times, reading through these treasures can also be a great way to pick yourself up. You may even find yourself noticing “treasures” for your chest and writing them down outside of your usual time for reflection.
3. Change Your Thoughts:
When you find yourself challenged by negative thoughts, one of the most powerful things you can do is to consciously replace them with a positive message. This process, known as reframing in cognitive therapy allows you to view even negative situations with gratitude. For example, if you find your mother’s behavior at Thanksgiving to be controlling, you can try replacing that with the message, “I must be very important to her. She really cares about making things right for me”. Even when situations are challenging, this can allow you to view others with generosity and gratitude.
4. Letter of Appreciation:
When was the last time you wrote a letter? Perhaps there is someone in your life, a spouse, a teacher, a religious leader, who has made a big difference for you. Taking the time to write a letter, whether or not you ever send it, can result in a big impact on your feelings of appreciation and gratitude, and the associated lift in your mood. Celebrations, such as anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays can also be an opportunity to express our appreciation for others in our lives. Rather than focusing on the gift or even the details of the celebration, taking the time to write down why this person is important to you can help you to focus on what is really important about the celebration.
5. Pay it Forward:
When you appreciate the abundance in your own life, it becomes so much easier to give from a place of thankfulness. The holiday season offers some especially meaningful opportunities for generosity. Take the time to volunteer in a soup kitchen or at a community meal, sponsor a family’s Christmas gifts and meals, give to the Salvation Army, or offer to help an elderly community member with shopping or household chores. Think you don’t have the time or money? You do. Research shows that volunteering your time or money will lead you to feel more affluent, both in time and money.
Practicing gratitude goes beyond simply saying thank you. A practice of gratitude is linked with many benefits, including increased happiness, hopefulness, and positive emotions. It can also make us more forgiving and less materialistic and decrease our feelings of depression and loneliness. This simple practice is doable for everyone regardless of life circumstances or scheduling demands and will enormously improve your daily and long term happiness.
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.