By Linda Mundie
How can you start living with more gratitude? First, make it a point to be more aware of what you have. Take an inventory of even the smallest things in your life that you are grateful for. Think of something you might take for granted—the dinner on your plate every night, a warm place to live, the telephone that keeps you in touch with your daughter who lives in Arizona. Bringing awareness to and acknowledging what we do have helps us live in gratitude.
Keeping a gratitude journal is an easy exercise. Every night, before you turn in for the night, think of three things that you have to be thankful for. They may be big things, like an unexpected visit from a loved one, or small things, like a bird that came to your bird feeder today. Write them in a journal or notebook before you go to sleep. In one study, a group of people was asked to practice this gratitude exercise every day for one week. Even though the exercise lasted for only seven days, when measured a month later, participants were happier and less depressed than they’d been at baseline, and they also stayed happier and less depressed at the three- and six-month follow-ups.
The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.
Here are a few ways to help not only to start a gratitude practice, but to maintain it for the long haul. First, get real about your gratitude practice. Being excited about the benefits of gratitude can be a great thing because it gives us the kick we need to start making changes. When we want to achieve a goal, using the technique of mental contrasting—being optimistic about the benefits of a new habit while also being realistic about how difficult building the habit may be – leads us to exert more effort. Recognize and plan for the obstacles that may get in the way. For instance, if you tend to be exhausted at night, accept that it might not be the best time to focus for a few extra minutes and schedule your gratitude in the morning instead.
Don’t limit yourself—if journaling is feeling stale, try out new and creative ways to track your grateful moments. Create a gratitude jar this year. Any time you experience a moment of gratitude write it on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. On New Year’s Eve, empty the jar and review everything you wrote. You just might find that when a good thing happens, you will think, “That’s one for the gratitude jar!” It can make the moment more meaningful and keeps us on the lookout for more.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a real difference in your life. A few simple and even entertaining mental diversions will change things. The benefits of gratitude are undeniable. Will you commit to beginning a gratitude practice for your health?