This is the time of year that many of us slow down, spend more time with family and friends, reflect on our year and start setting our intentions for the New Year. The holiday season, for many, prompts a feeling of gratitude. Maybe it’s because we slow down, take time off, reflect on the year as it winds down and what it has meant. But, did you know that the act of feeling and expressing gratitude has extreme benefits for our physical health, psychological well-being and relationships with others? Scientific studies have been going on for decades trying to understand the full benefits of simply expressing gratitude. Robert Emmons Ph.D. is a leading scientific expert on gratitude. Here are just a few of his findings:
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.
Dr. Emmons explains that gratitude has two components. First, it helps us affirm goodness in this world and recognize the gifts and benefits we’ve received. Even though life isn’t perfect, gratitude helps us identify some amount of goodness in our lives. The second part of gratitude is realizing the source is outside of us. True gratitude goes against a self-serving bias. When we are grateful, we understand that it’s other people that help us achieve the goodness in our lives.
Research has shown that gratitude helps us celebrate the present and participate more in life. It helps block negative and toxic emotions like envy, resentment and regret that can destroy happiness. Grateful people are more stress resistant and have a higher sense of self-worth.
So how do we get away from the “season” of gratitude and truly live it year-round? If you want to move past just feeling occasionally grateful to becoming a more grateful person, here are some daily practices you can incorporate:
- Keep a gratitude journal. This can be as simple as listing 3 things you are grateful for every day, or you can use something more formal like The Five-Minute Journal that has morning question prompts and evening reflection questions. It was given to me as a gift at a very pivotal time in my life and it has been invaluable to me ever since.
- If you don’t want to write things down, pick a time (first thing in the morning or at bedtime) to simply count your blessings. If you eat dinner with your partner, children, friend, etc. get in the habit of going around the table and each listing something you are grateful for today. It was our tradition at Thanksgiving, but now we do it all the time. It’s really fun to hear the simplest things that people are grateful for.
- If you have children and want to help instill the importance of gratitude, you can do a variety of things. Volunteer as a family at a non-profit that makes you feel good. We serve dinner together as a family every month at one of the Transition Projects shelters dedicated to helping people transition off the streets. You can also start a gratitude jar at home that you put your spare change into every day. The idea is that the act prompts you to talk about what you are grateful for. When the jar is full you can donate it to a needy person or cause.
Personally, I have so much to be grateful for: a warm home, supportive and loving family, a reliable car, access to good food and healthcare, a thriving business, friends, clients and colleagues that infuse so much joy in my life… the list goes on and on. As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, let it be a great time to remind us the importance of practicing gratitude daily.