Increasing Happiness is all the rage and a key ingredient to this contentment is gratitude. A quick definition of Gratitude is simply being thankful, but I wanted to uncover what specific benefits are provided when actively practicing gratitude and how to turn that practice into a new positive habit. In my own life I have the tendency to not look on the bright side or notice all the wonderful things around me, so I dug deeper into gratitude and I’m happy I did.
How Gratitude Can Improve Your Life
Gratitude can take many forms but in essence it is simply being thankful for what you already have. Often our natural reaction is to focus on all the negative aspects in our lives:
- My life is so difficult
- Why me?
- I wish I had the new… insert item here
- Why do normal tasks seem so stressful
- Am I the only one…
When we focus on the negatives we draw our attention away from all the positives. We overlook these valuable moments, people, or things and take them for granted instead of appreciating them. By actively practicing gratitude we deliberately focus on the positives by bringing them to our attention. This gets us thinking about them, noticing them more often, and finally to begin searching out all the wonderful things around us.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Before I begin listing all the benefits of gratitude it is important to understand many of these benefits correlate to other aspects of our lives. Therefore improving one aspect will also give a lift to another creating exponential positive results.
1. Increase Happiness – This is at the top of the list because it’s the main point right? Prof. Robert Emmons, one of the top researchers in Positive Psychology says that practicing gratitude can increase your Happiness by 25%. Emmons says, “a few hours writing a gratitude journal over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not more” – WOW.
2. Reduce Negative Emotions – Negative events or perceived slights happen to everyone, there is no escaping this – what we can change is how we deal with these emotions. We might look for the good in the bad situation, simply forget it, let it go, or we can stew on it all day. Three of these options improves happiness, one does not – can you figure it out.
3. Improve your health. Being happy is good for your health. Your energy will also improve because it is tiring complaining and being depressed all the time.
4. Improves Relationships. I experienced a huge improvement in the relationship with my wife. When I started to take the time to be grateful for all the things she did for me and my family – I started to notice things (many, many things) I had overlooked. She was appreciative of my new appreciation for her.
5. Improve Your Outlook for the Future. Having a positive outlook can transcend into working harder toward your goal (or even starting one) because you feel there is a better chance to succeed.
6. Improves Sleep – There are many articles about sleep here on the site – I can’t sleep – because sleep is so fundamental to a healthy and productive life. Any advantage available to improve your sleep – take it!
The Gratitude Challenge!
Write five things you are grateful for everyday for 30 days.
Yes – it is that simple!
How to Improve Gratitude – Actions For Life:
1. Gratitude Journal – This is one of the easiest ways and what we’ll be focusing on in the gratitude challenge. This is a little daily journal to write down what you’re thankful for. I experimented with all the tips below, but I did this everyday and found it made the biggest difference for me. You can write any way you like – I kept my entries simple with the date and the phrase: “Today, I am thankful for… then I wrote out at least five things.
2. Positive Pictures and Affirmations – Hang pictures and affirmations where you will see and read them. This could be in your home, on your computer desktop, or even a sticky note to yourself. Read them often and think deeply about them.
3. Say “Thank You” more often – Everyone loves to feel appreciated (don’t you?). Take the time to say thank you. Start with those closest to you like your partner, kids, or parents and move on from there. Sometimes in our daily routines we take for granted what those closest to us do for us and their kind actions become expected. Thank them for these little acts of kindness with all means at your disposal, you can even text, but a face to face “thank you” is always the best way.
4. Practice Mindfulness to help appreciate the present moment – We spend so much of our time trapped in our minds – mindfulness is slowing down and letting our environment soak in – stopping to smell the roses and being thankful for it. Being mindful even a few minutes a day can pull you back to reality and help you relax.
5. Replace your “ungrateful” thoughts with something you are thankful for – Sure, you are going to have negative thoughts – there is no way around this. When you’re hit with little busts of negativity acknowledge these thoughts, but look for a positive spin to put on them and then simply move on.
Why Did I Choose This Challenge?
I chose this challenge because despite “having it all” a good job, family, and friends – I was very unhappy and depressed and I didn’t know why. I was seeing life through a negative lens to the point where my wife was pushing me to talk to a professional because as she stated, “there is no reason for you to be unhappy.” I’ve been visited by depression before and worked through different strategies to keep it at bay – so I was certain this would help make a difference and it did.
How Did I Practice Gratitude?
I like to keep my challenges as simple as possible – I focused on creating and writing in a Gratitude Journal. I worked this into my night time routine. It took less than five minutes and I wrote down the top five things I was thankful for. A few days I missed writing them down and when this happened I wrote them out in the morning. At first it was more difficult to find things I was thankful for because I was looking for something monumental. There were also days I had to stretch it a bit, like “I enjoyed a great Grilled Cheese Sandwich”. Later, I started to notice little things can make you very happy. For example, when my son was very well behaved on the drive home from daycare (usually screams).
A hidden gem I wasn’t expecting from this challenge was sharing it with my family. I told my wife about the challenge and we started sharing what we were thankful for with each other. I have the job of putting my eldest son to bed. He is two, and starting to be quite the talker. Before turning off the light we talked about what he was grateful for and at this point it is mostly “Cheerios, Cookies, and PAW Patrol”, but as he gets older I believe this will be an amazing habit to continue for his own happiness, growth, and well being.
My Next Steps
I was so happy with the results of this Challenge that I will continue writing in my gratitude journal. I also want to explore some of the other examples about including more deliberate practice of using affirmations and surrounding myself with positive messages. I plan to write a follow up article in a years time to see if I was able to continue the habit and the rewards it provided.
Conclusion – To Be or Not to Be…Thankful
The challenges here at the Keys to Optimal Living are to help establish positive habits in your life that will complement your desired lifestyle and goals. The Gratitude Challenge is SO EASY, but the rewards are truly fantastic. It is said you can’t put a price on happiness, so take the five minutes needed to start noticing all the great things you already have in your life that you keep missing. In the words of Prof. Emmons – “your happiness will increase 25%” – this is a big gain and one you deserve.
I recommend you start this challenge now – you can start this minute by writing down five things you are grateful for – it’s as easy as that. I’d love to hear how the challenge helped you or what you’re grateful for, so please leave a comment below or on Twitter at #KeysToOptimalLiving.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Your Next Steps
The Five Minute Journal – I came across an amazing journal halfway through the challenge and wish I had found it before I stated. It includes inspirational quotes, daily goals, and of course a section on gratitude – great product and well worth checking out!
The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan – dives deeper into the topic of gratitude and is well worth the read!