From making you happier and more positive to making you nicer to others, to improving your physical health and well-being, learn more about how gratitude can completely change your life.
Why You Should Start Practicing Gratitude
When most women come to me, they report that they want to feel happier and healthier, but they don’t know what to do to get there.
You see, many people believe that good health will lead to increased happiness, but in my practice, I believe that increased happiness leads to good health.
Cultivating and maintaining an attitude of gratitude has been the single most impactful step I have made towards creating a happier, healthier, more vibrant, and abundant life in the past year, and I want that for you too.
As I grow and develop my own holistic lifestyle, I have learned that consciously practicing gratitude is an integral piece of the happiness puzzle.
So before you rush off to count the calories in your next meal or to see how many pounds you need to lose in the New Year, keep reading to discover how practicing gratitude can completely change your life this year.
Practice Gratitude, Even When You're Not Feeling Grateful
As defined by the dictionary, gratitude is: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
I thought I knew what gratitude was until something happened in my life that forced me to have a deeper, more in-depth understanding of what it means to truly be grateful.
When I suffered a health crisis that left me bedridden for two months, it was no doubt the worst time of my life.
However, I have found myself reflecting back on that experience with profound gratitude for the good health that I have now. You know that old saying, ‘you never really know what you’ve got until it’s gone?'
I tell you, that has never been truer than when it comes to your health. If you are one of the millions of Americans living with chronic health or an autoimmune condition, I know you can relate to me right now.
I know that at the moment, when things seem to be going wrong, it can be really, really difficult to look at the silver lining, to express gratitude for the things that are happening to you.
But I promise, the more you can condition your mind to always look for the positive, to always find something to be grateful for, the more you will begin to reap the benefits of this practice.
What Research Shows About Gratitude
Grateful responses to life, we are told, can lead to peace of mind, happiness, physical health, and deeper, more satisfying personal relationships - but is that exactly true?
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life attempts to determine if this is true or not.
Does being consciously grateful for one’s blessings lead to greater peace of mind, happiness, and better relationships? While it was a small study, the results were fascinating.
YES, being consciously grateful for one’s blessings can lead to greater peace of mind, greater interpersonal happiness, and more satisfying personal relationships.
In conclusion, “people in the gratitude condition experienced higher levels of positive affect during the 13-day period, and it appears plausible that this effect on positive affect generally was due to the intervention’s effect on gratitude per se.” (1)
Gratitude Can Make you a Kinder Person
By practicing gratitude, you are not only helping yourself but you are helping those around you as well: it has been shown that practicing gratitude can make you a kinder person.
Grateful responses to life not only lend to a more positive effect on your own life but interestingly enough, by practicing gratitude, we are more likely to practice empathy and kindness to the people in our lives, thus spreading the positive benefits of this practice to those around us as well.
As discovered in the study, participants “were also more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another, suggesting prosocial motivation as a consequence of the gratitude induction.” (1)
Gratitude Can Make You Physically Healthier
It is understandable how it could be difficult to quantify the practice of gratitude and apply that practice to physical health outcomes, but one study attempted to do just that by Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood.
Specifically, this study examined whether psychological health, healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns mediated the link between gratitude and self-reported physical health.
Does Practicing Gratitude Impact Physical Health?
According to this study - YES. “Our findings suggest that grateful individuals experience better physical health, in part, because of their greater psychological health, propensity for healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns”. (2)
Although, it was very interesting to see how the indirect effects for psychological health and healthy activities were stronger for older than younger adults. In other words, the ways by which gratitude influences physical health differs across the lifespan.
Perhaps it is the wisdom that comes with age that allows us to be more receptive to the positive practice of gratitude?
How to Start Practicing Gratitude in Just Four Simple Steps
Expressing gratitude in written form is one of the best ways to connect with your feelings and solidify your intentions. While there are a lot of ways to practice gratitude, journaling is one of the best, research-backed ones out there.
Step 1 - Chose Your Journaling Medium
Want the best results from your gratitude practice? Do you want to feel happier? Be nicer to others? Physically feel better? Write it down!
Keeping A Physical Gratitude Journal
You bet that I have my iPhone in my hand all day, every day. But when it comes to writing down anything meaningful, I am a dedicated pen and paper girl.
For years, I have used paper planners to not only organize my calendar and appointments for both personal and business use but eventually, I discovered that it is the perfect way for me to keep consistent with my gratitude journal as well.
If you're looking for the perfect gratitude journal, I highly recommend this Gratitude Journal: Good Days Start With Gratitude: A 52 Week Guide to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude.
Of course, being a millennial in a digital world, I understand that many people prefer digital ways to keep their gratitude journals.
There are many different options inside the App Store, although I am in favor of the My Gratitude Journal App for $2.99.
Step 2 - Define Your Purpose
You were drawn to this post, How to Start a Gratitude Journal, for a reason. Ask yourself:
- What is your purpose for learning how to start and maintain a gratitude journal?
- Do you just want to be more aware of the blessings you already have in your life?
- Do you want to be nicer to others? More kind, caring and empathetic?
- Do you want to become a more positive person overall?
- Do you want to improve your physical health?
Having a clear goal in mind for your practice will help you to discover all the ways gratitude can benefit your life overall and help you to focus on what you will be writing down.
Step 3 - Commit to a Frequency
How often do you want to reflect on the things that you're grateful for? Daily, weekly? Sporadically?
I love to use a weekly planner because there is just enough space to write down what I am thankful for daily.
Whatever you decide, commit to a frequent schedule to keep you on track, but don't get too bogged down by a schedule.
In fact, research shows that being too strict or obsessed over the frequency of your practice can have the opposite, health-promoting effects.
It was discovered that “increases in well-being are highest when the activity fits the person’s interests and values and when it is performed neither too frequently nor too seldom.” (2)
Step 4 - Focus on Cultivating Positivity
The most important step in developing your gratitude practice is just sitting down and actually doing the work. There is no right or wrong way to share your feelings. There is no right or wrong way to keep and maintain a gratitude journal.
Your gratitude journal is highly personal and should become an enjoyable activity for you, not just another mundane task to cross off your to-do list.
I was lucky enough to be raised by two parents who are obsessed with reading avidly and with writing their own works too. One especially helpful byproduct of this is that my mother always encouraged me to write in a daily journal.
She told me that it was one of the best ways possible to let my feelings out, but that it was also an effective way of remembering important milestones or special memories.
I don't think that as a kid I realized just how important journaling would be for me, though. I would often get distracted when I was younger and forget to write anything in my journal for weeks on end.
But even with those gaps, I've realized now that I'm older that hanging onto those old journals was well worth it. Being able to look back on old projects of mine and my plans for the future has helped me not just to feel encouraged about how far I have come, but to stay on track with my current goals too.
That's why now I do write every single day. Sometimes it's as simple as recording the weather or what I cooked for dinner. But no matter how mundane or exciting the content of my entries might be, building the habit of consistently journaling has steadily introduced discipline into my life again.
Writing in a diary daily means all my ideas for work and creative projects are in one place and I never have to worry that I am forgetting some important lightbulb-moment.
It also offers a safe space for me to work through my emotions and keep track of things like how much sleep I am getting, if I am keeping on track with my dietary needs, or if there are any important symptoms I might need to bring up to my doctor.
All of these make it easier to map out the healthiest life I can have, physically and mentally. Whether I'm recording something as simple as when I have headaches, or if I have spent time with friends lately, I know I can look back and smile at the good memories and have a resource at hand to track problems.
Overall, I really would recommend everyone give journaling a try. It doesn't have to be fancy or artistic. Just having a place you can write down stray thoughts can bring a lot of peace. I know it has helped me prevent anxiety over whether or not I'm forgetting something important, as well as helping when I feel like things are too bottled up and I just need to vent a little.
I think everyone can use that kind of space every now and then, even if it's not fun to admit. A journal is a reliable friend that can listen to and keep any secrets, and just the act of writing down your thoughts once or twice a day will go a long way towards changing how you feel by the end of it.
10 Reasons to Develop A Daily Gratitude Practice
Do you count your blessings? Studies have shown that people who develop a daily gratitude practice are happier and healthier than people who focus on the negativity in their lives. Here are just a few of the benefits you'll enjoy when you become a more thankful person.
1. You'll stress less. Meditation and other mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques have been proven to relieve pain, increase blood flow and generate good moods.
2. You'll focus less on petty things. It's hard to stay mad at the dog for tracking mud on the carpet when you remind yourself that you're stable and successful enough to have a dog in the first place.
3. You'll feel more connected to the ones you love. Who helped you achieve your successes? Who was there for you every step of the way? Go thank them. You aren't alone, and expressing your thanks will bring you even closer together.
4. You'll release endorphins. You've probably heard of happy-making hormones like serotonin and dopamine, but you don't need to chase a runner's high to get them. They can be released through positive attitudes and outlooks.
5. You'll sleep better. This is especially true if you count your blessings right before bed. Instead of tumbling into anxious dreams promoted by anxious thoughts, you'll drift into a relaxed, happy state of unconsciousness.
6. You'll improve your immune system. Stress can have a tangible effect on the immune system, so once you lessen or even eliminate it, you'll improve things like your blood pressure and cardiovascular health. You'll also get sick less often with a stronger immune system.
7. You'll boost your creativity. It's a myth that tortured souls are the most imaginative. Happiness has been proven to boost cognitive development and help with everything from self-expression to problem-solving.
8. You'll appear more attractive to others. Have you ever noticed that happy people have a certain glow? You can generate that glow by improving your own life.
9. You'll always have perspective. Many people struggle with negativity because they lose sight of what's really important. If you stay grateful, you'll never forget where you came from and where you want to go.
10. You'll have a more positive outlook on life. At the end of the day, it's easier to face and overcome challenges when you're bolstered by the things that make you happy.
These are just a few of the advantages of developing a gratitude habit. Cultivate your feelings of thankfulness and humbleness to make yourself a better, more positive person.