As we come to the end of the year, many of us look back with thankfulness for all the blessings we experienced.
Even for those of us who faced hardship or loss this year, practicing gratitude – as difficult as this can be in the moment – can help improve mental health.
What does it mean to be grateful? Practicing gratitude is a part of positive thinking, and it contributes to our perspectives and how we view the world around us. It does not mean convincing ourselves that everything is fine or blocking out difficulties. It means intentionally choosing to focus and draw attention to the goodness in our lives.
Many of us express gratitude by saying “thank you” to someone who has helped us or given us a gift. However, from a scientific perspective, gratitude is not just an action. It is also a positive emotion that serves a biological purpose. Gratitude is more than feeling thankful: It is a deeper appreciation for someone (or something) that produces longer lasting positivity, which in turn leads to improvements in physical and mental health.
For many who focus on gratitude regularly, it becomes a way of life and a state of being. The more you practice something, the easier it becomes. Here are some tips to practice gratitude to help you get started on this journey.
Keep a gratitude journal: Write down three things each day that you can be grateful for. This may sound cheesy, but when you write down the things that you are thankful for, you are forced to pay attention to the good in your life. A study found that people who kept gratitude journals felt more thankful, positive, and optimistic about the future. They also slept better.
Replace complaints with gratitude: When you find yourself focusing on what you believe you are lacking – I wish my car were nicer, my house were bigger, I had more money – replace it with thoughts of what you are thankful for.
Keep a gratitude jar: This is a special jar where you save gratitude statements at the end of the day. A gratitude statement acknowledges something you appreciate or are thankful for. Examples of statements include: I felt happy today when…, I was proud of myself today because…, Something funny that happened today…,Today I had fun when….
Take a gratitude walk: Go for a walk and make a special effort to appreciate your surroundings. You might notice the smell of flowers, an interesting building, or a soothing breeze. Spend a few minutes focusing on each of your senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) to find new things you may not have noticed before. What are you grateful for today?