Lately, we hear so much about gratitude but did you ever wonder why gratitude is important?  Since this is my first post of November and because it is both my birthday month and the month of Thanksgiving I felt a need to write about gratitude.

Gratitude is not just a brainy thing where you think of something you’re grateful for and forget it.  Gratitude is something that comes from your heart.  It’s something you feel not think.  While it can be part of a spiritual practice, for some it’s their only spiritual practice and for others, it might be a practice for their soul or for the universe.  It matters not, as long as it is something you practice.

Benefits of Gratitude

There are real benefits to gratitude and many of these benefits have been found through scientific studies of gratitude.  They’ve compared different cultural attitudes towards gratitude, how it affects the personality, how materialism and envy were affected by gratitude, how your emotions, sleep, and overall health were affected.  There are 26 different studies found at the above link, so it’s clear that gratitude is something that’s being seriously studied and it’s not just a one-off or fluke study.

  • Gratitude can make us happier.  By focusing on those things we are grateful for or that went well, we then tend to focus less on those things that didn’t go well or that made us angry.  It also helps us bounce back quicker when things do happen and of course, it makes us feel good.
  • Gratitude can make us healthier.  One study found that participants who journaled their gratitude every day also got 30 minutes more of sleep each night.  Additional sleep brings a lot of health benefits.  But the studies also found that participants exercised more, reported less pain than previously, and even significantly decreased their systolic blood pressure.
  • Gratitude affects our personality.  Not only did those in the studies become happier but they developed more agreeable personalities, become less inward (self) centered and focused outward on other people, they became less materialistic and developed more self-esteem.  This led to participants becoming more social
  • Gratitude increases your energy level.  Two different studies (found in the above link) both connect increased vitality to increased gratitude.  Feeling grateful increased mental and physical vigor, tied closely to making people want to move more or exercise.
  • Gratitude makes our memories happier.  Experiencing gratitude lets us look back at our memories and focus on the positive not the negative.  Just like it helps us to focus on the positive in the present.  One study even found that by focusing on gratitude, the participants were able to put closure to some painful memories.

How To Practice Gratitude

Now that you know some of the benefits of gratitude, let’s take a look at the many ways in which you can practice it.

Keep A Gratitude Journal

This is something that I’ve started doing.  Each night I write down 5 things that I’m grateful for that happened during the day.  It’s important to think of different things than what I wrote down the previous day.  And being specific and using details is important. It might feel difficult at first, especially if you’re not used to looking at things from a gratitude perspective.  But the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

It doesn’t matter what you’re grateful for, meaning it doesn’t have to be the “big” things.  It can be the little things too.  Like quickly finding an open spot in a busy parking lot, cuddles with your kids or pets, appreciating a glorious sunset or sunrise, having your bread toasted to perfection, etc.  It can also be the big things, like being grateful for the hospital that’s taking care of a loved one, or getting engaged, finding out you’re pregnant, etc.

But the important key is still being specific.  So include a “why” to your gratefulness.  That changes cuddling with your kids or pets into “I’m grateful to cuddle with my child after a hard day at work because it reminds me why I’m setting an example of hard work…” or any other reason why you’re grateful to be hugging your child or your pet or your spouse.  Finding that open spot in a busy parking lot could be appreciated because you were running late for a meeting or to get to the school play, etc.

The more specific you are, the more meaningful your gratitude, the better the benefits for you.

Keep a Gratitude Jar

This is also something that my husband and I have been doing for years now and I wrote about in Gratitude In A Jar.  We started it the year he was diagnosed with cancer.  I found a beautiful jar with a wide enough opening and a stopper.  Then I made slips of paper that we would write on whenever we thought of something to be grateful for.  On New Year’s Eve, we opened the jar and read all of the slips.  We went through a lot of change throughout the year.  It was evident in what we wrote on those slips of paper.

Be Mindfully Grateful

Sit and practice mindful gratitude.  Sitting down will help you slow down, you can focus your mind on things that you’re grateful for.  Think of 5 to 10 things that you are grateful for, but don’t just think about them, see them in your mind.  Form the mental picture and sit with that feeling of gratitude for each, one at a time.  Both naming what you’re grateful for and feeling that gratitude is what helps to rewire your body, mind, soul for all those positive benefits of gratitude.

Be Thankful

Write a letter of thanks to someone.  Or better tell them in person why you are thankful for them.  Describe in detail what it is that they’ve done to make your grateful.  Not only will this practice make you feel good, but there is the added benefit of making someone else feel good.  You can write a letter to a co-worker, a family member, a teacher who had a positive influence in your life, your children, the clerk at the store who always carries your groceries to the store, etc.

A Gratitude Walk

This is not something that I’ve done before.  Usually, when I walk, I do a walking meditation which I previously wrote about.  The purpose of the Gratitude Walk is to appreciate nature.  As you walk you notice your environment.  The grass, the trees, the path, the rocks, the air you breathe, and the sun.  Express gratitude for whatever it is that you notice during your walk.

By including gratitude in your daily routine you’ll be able to see those benefits of health and well-being start to add up.  If you’d like to learn more about how you can add more gratitude into your daily life, check out Gratitude Works:  A 21-Day Program For Creating Emotional Prosperity by Robert A. Emmons.