I’ve been exploring the dimensions of wellness, and the actions that support them. The importance of practicing gratitude has come up numerous times. Developing one’s sense of gratitude through daily practice is not only achievable but it can also benefit everyone.
To understand why gratitude is so beneficial we should understand what it means. To see how gratitude can support wellness, we’ll look at specific benefits of gratitude that research has found. Once we know all that, we can delve into a daily gratitude practice.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the feeling or practice of being thankful for the good in life and the kind actions of others. It may arise spontaneously, some people are more prone to feeling grateful than others, and it can also be cultivated consciously.
Like happiness, gratitude can arise as a spontaneous feeling. This may be caused by gratitude serving as a useful emotion in our evolution; the same way fear evolved to protect us. Some people may have a trait of gratitude, and feel grateful more often. But waiting for this spontaneous feeling is not enough.
Instead, our aim is the practice or trait of gratitude. That is, instead of waiting for something to provoke gratitude within us, we cultivate it. Similar to other habits of wellness, we must actively focus our thoughts on practicing gratitude which means looking for the good in our lives, appreciating it, and being thankful.
Why Practice Gratitude?
Reasons for practicing gratitude used to be limited to anecdotal evidence and spirituality-based activities, but today there is a lot of research backing the claims of the benefits of practicing gratitude:
Physical Wellness and Gratitude
On average, people who practice gratitude have better physical health than those who don’t. This includes lower blood pressure, better sleep, and less stress. Additionally, they exercise more, experience fewer aches, and have a stronger immune system; these are all benefits on their own, but they also compound to further benefit your physical health.
Mental Wellness and Gratitude
Practicing gratitude also strengthens our mental health. In addition to less stress, the practice is correlated with increased happiness, improved optimism, stronger self-control, and a lower risk of anxiety and depression.
Social Wellness and Gratitude
People who cultivate gratitude have been found to feel less lonely, and more forgiving, compassionate, and generous. Gratitude may help form new relationships, and couples that express gratitude to each other often have stronger and healthier relationships.
How to practice gratitude?
Key aspects of any gratitude practice:
- Acknowledge the good in your life
- Take time to appreciate it
- Recognize where that good comes from
An additional aspect of gratitude to take your practice even further is to return the kindness you have received or perform acts of kindness unprovoked.
Suggested Practices to Cultivate Gratitude
- Create a daily practice of listing what you are grateful for; whether at the start or the end of the day.
- Note good things when they happen.
- Spend time investigating good things in your life and what their causes are.
- Write thank-you notes for those who have helped, mentored, or inspired you.
- Try the “mental subtraction” exercise of imagining what your life would be like if something good had not occurred.
- Practice “counting your blessings” regularly.
- Spend time in meditation.
- Give thanks in prayer.
Not all of these ideas will work for everyone, but try as many as you can to see what works best for your strengths and personality. When you like something, it’s so much easier to stick with it!
To help your practice stick, it may be helpful to build habits around the methods you use. Check out my guide for building habits.
Gratitude is a way to avoid the traps of negative thoughts and instead appreciate the good that is around us while improving our wellbeing. What does your gratitude practice look like?
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