Thanksgiving is often a time of year when people begin to think a bit more about what they are grateful for. Some family traditions include sharing what individuals are grateful for in their lives as a way of welcoming the dinner before them. However, the benefits of practicing gratitude are available to each of us, for free, all year long! Research shows by practicing gratitude throughout the year we experience significant health benefits and improvements in the quality of our lives. Dr. Robert Emmons is a leading researcher on the topic of gratitude practices and has conducted several key studies on the wellness benefits of a regular gratitude practice. Dr. Emmons is the author of Thanks, How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Dr. Emmons found individuals who practice gratitude on a regular basis experience a generally happier mood and can reduce symptoms of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. If this wasn’t reason enough, research indicates individuals who offer regular thanks experience a better night’s sleep, increased compassion and empathy towards others, increased immune system function and less visits to the doctor, and increase self-esteem.
A gratitude practice doesn’t need to time consuming or laborious. Here are a few suggestions on how to begin your practice:
-Keep a note pad by your bed. Write down 3-5 things you are grateful for before you go to bed. As little as 5-10 minutes a day before bed time could make a huge difference in how quickly you go to sleep and the quality of your sleep.
-Thank a friend or a loved one regularly. Not only is this a way to strengthen individual connection to gratitude in our lives, but an excellent way to enhance our relationships with the people who mean the most. So, whether it’s a phone call or a hand-written letter (text if you must), letting people know we care about them and appreciate them in a relationship booster and gratitude practice that fills the heart.
-Integrate gratitude into mediation/yoga. You may already have a spiritual practice that you can easily adapt to integrate some extra gratitude time with. If not, start small and focus on an evening or morning practice for 5 minutes that allows your mind to float to memories and images you feel grateful for or about. Don’t over think it and it will happen!
-Journal writing is a great way to reshape your practice and improve your mood. Focus your writing on things you are grateful for and have positive feelings about. Research shows when individuals focus their writing in this way, as opposed to focusing on disappointments or frustrations, they can experience many or all of the benefits discussed here.
-Get creative. Make a gratitude vision board or create art that taps into and represents what you are grateful for. Poems, songs, and blogs are another way utilize creativity and gratitude. The sky is the limit when you lean into creativity.
-Use your social media for the good of yourself and others. Focus on posts related to gratitude. You can even begin a 30-day challenge focused on gratitude and invite others to join you.
-Connect your activities to gratitude. You might consider a volunteer opportunity such as serving a meal at a local homeless shelter, giving time at a local animal shelter, or sending care packages to our Veterans who serve our country or simply thanking the individuals who provide services needs (your local librarian, barista, mail man).
You can make this practice a simple part of your daily life or something much larger to begin to experience all the benefits of gratitude. With that, I appreciate all of you taking them time to read this post and wish you much health and happiness as the Thanksgiving holiday arrives.