Growing up, it’s not uncommon for children to be told to be thankful for what they have and be aware that others are not as fortunate. This is an incredibly important sentiment, but one that is often forgotten as we get older. While you may acknowledge the things you’re thankful for, how frequently do you practice gratitude? To answer this question, it’s necessary to understand what gratitude really means. Robert Emmons in his book, ‘Why Gratitude is Good’, breaks the definition into two parts. The first part is gratitude is an affirmation of goodness despite life not being perfect. The second part is determining where this goodness comes from or the source of this goodness. Acknowledging the positive impact external variables have on ourselves can be a humbling experience. Both parts leave room for acknowledging hardships while practicing gratitude.
In order to feel the full positive impact of practicing gratitude, it’s helpful to keep a gratitude journal. Focusing on what we have versus what we don’t have, and writing these thoughts down, has been scientifically shown to improve both mental and physical health. This intentional practice creates a mental shift in how we view everyday life.
To convince you further of the immense positive impact gratitude journaling can have, we’ll discuss the outcome of an extensive study of over one thousand individuals ages 8-80. Individuals that regularly utilized a gratitude journal experienced a large range of positive effects including, strengthened immune systems, more restful sleep, higher energy levels, lower blood pressure, more positive daily emotions, and feeling more outgoing and less isolated. A large part of practicing gratitude is about living in the present moment instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Cultivating the ability to stay present is a large part of practicing mindfulness as well. This can allow you to foster gratitude for people in your life, in turn, strengthening interpersonal relationships.
There are many ways to begin your practice of gratitude journaling. The easiest way to begin is simply to start writing things down. Start with a small goal of writing down 2-3 things a day you’re grateful for and grow your practice from there. As the lack of structure may feel uncomfortable, there are also many gratitude journals you can purchase and even gratitude phone applications if that fits better with your lifestyle.
If you are writing in your journal in the morning, thinking about what’s currently bringing you joy, and happiness is a great place to start. Simply looking at the room around you, going outside, or talking to loved ones can inspire feelings of gratitude to be written down. If you’re cultivating your gratitude practice in the evening, it can be helpful to reflect on your day and the positive and negative things you’ve experienced. While it may feel counterintuitive, you can feel gratitude for experiences you may not quantify as “positive”. We can learn and grow from all experiences if we take the time to shift and reframe our perspectives in a more positive light. For couples, it can be a positive bonding experience to talk together about things you’re grateful for. Maybe it can become part of your daily routine for each individual to express and write down a few things they’re grateful for before going to sleep or when you wake up in the morning.
No matter who we are or what we’re going through, we could all benefit from practicing more gratitude in our daily lives. Every morning we open our eyes, we have something to be grateful for.
If you’ve found yourself struggling with to feel mentally and physically healthy, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!