We all have those moments in life: the time you braked just in time to avoid a car accident, received good news from a medical test that could have been a life-threatening diagnosis, or narrowly missed a fall that may have left you seriously injured.
Once the adrenaline subsides and relief sets in, we are likely to feel a true sense of gratitude. What if we extended that sense of gratitude?
A growing amount of research suggests gratitude is an emotional muscle you can strengthen, over time, to feel an increased sense of energy, joy and satisfaction. In other words, by making gratitude a part of your everyday life, you can be a happier person overall.
According to Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and a pioneer of gratitude research, people who are grateful see gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind.
According to his extensive research, gratitude contributes to:
- Better Health. Practicing gratitude is associated with reduced blood pressure and stress levels, better kidney function and a stronger heart.
- Coping Skills. According to Emmons’ research, thankfulness has a tremendous value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress.
- Feeling Happier Overall. In one pivotal study by Emmons, those who wrote down one thing they were grateful for every day reported being 25 percent happier for a full six months after following this routine for just three weeks.
- Increased Vitality. People who regularly wrote down things for which they were thankful reported an increased sense of vitality, according to Emmons’ research. Subjects who simply kept a diary of daily events didn’t experience the same effects.
- Resiliency. Finding the good in any situation, even bad ones, can result in greater resiliency, or being able to bounce back from loss or trauma. “A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to both fortune and misfortune,” says Emmons.
- Paying it Forward. Expressing appreciation toward others triggers a biological response in the brain, including a rush of dopamine, which is the brain’s feel-good chemical. What’s more, when you express gratitude toward a spouse, friend or coworker, he or she will feel grateful in return, and is likely to pass that feeling on to others.
A gratitude ritual
How to give thanks:
Practice looking for the good. We tend to focus on the bad and overlook the good. Be mindfully observant of the good things you see around you, however small.
Write it down. Every day, take a few minutes to write down the things for which you are grateful. Keep it short and simple.
Write consistently. It is OK if you can’t do it every day. Once or twice a week is enough to boost happiness.
Go for depth instead of breadth. Keep your journal from becoming a list of thoughts or events. Instead, think about what made it pleasant. For example, instead of writing down that you “went for a walk,” think about what made it special. Was it the crunch of fall leaves? A certain smell or aroma? A setting sun? A cool breeze?
Get personal. Focusing on people who you are grateful for has more impact than focusing on things. How does a spouse or friend actively contribute to your happiness?
Surround yourself with positive people. Positive attitudes tend to rub off on others.
Focus on giving. You’ll find that your mind will focus on what you have, and what you can offer, rather than what you don’t have.
Try a “gratitude challenge” at home.
Here is one simple way to generate more gratitude in your home.
Attach a large piece of paper or poster board in a common place in your home, such as a refrigerator or door. Keep several pens or markers within easy reach. Ask everyone in your home to write down one thing they are grateful for every day leading up to Thanksgiving or through the holidays. Pick a day to read them all together.