Practicing Gratitude: Benefits, Exercises, and More
If the events of the past couple of years have you feeling down, you're not alone. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the current economy, we've been through a lot. And with the proverbial weight of these tough years on your shoulders, it can be difficult to look past the "bad" and find things to be grateful for.
Still, whether the past couple of years have been the best or worst of your life (or maybe somewhere in between), finding ways to express gratitude for the "good" is truly more important than ever. Not only does practicing gratitude improve your mental health and your outlook on life—but it can even be beneficial to your physical health.
How is that possible? To help you understand, let's dive deeper into the true meaning of gratitude and the many benefits that regular gratitude practice can have on your wellness. From there, we'll provide some practical and actionable tips for cultivating a gratitude practice as part of your daily routine.
What is Gratitude, Anyway?
What does gratitude mean? In simplest terms, gratitude simply refers to the act of being thankful of appreciative of something in your life. You might, for example, be grateful to have a roof over your head and nutritious food in your refrigerator. Nothing is too big, too small, or too simple to express gratitude over.
Diving a little deeper into the meaning of gratitude, the actual process of expressing it is broken down into three stages, according to psychologist Kathline Colvin:
- Stage 1 - feeling grateful for something good in your life.
- Stage 2 - expressing your gratitude to the people and/or things that have made your life better.
- Stage 3 - changing your own behavior to reflect your gratitude.
As you can imagine, moving through the gratitude process gets gradually more challenging for many. It's "easy" enough to acknowledge something that you're grateful for, but it's not always as simple to find meaningful ways to express that gratitude—let alone to change your own habits as a means of reflecting that gratitude. However, by reaching that third stage, you'll truly reap the best (and most) wellness benefits out of practicing gratitude.
Benefits of Gratitude: Mental, Spiritual, Emotional, and Physical
So, what are some of the health and wellness benefits you can enjoy when you make gratitude practice a part of your daily life?
For starters, expressing gratitude is great for your mental health. A study in Psychological Science discovered that people who focused on being grateful were more patient in their everyday lives. Likewise, another study from the Review of Communication found that gratitude can positively impact mental and emotional states as well as physical health. That's because, according to the same study, gratitude can be a reliable predictor of many markings of physical health, including a person's likelihood to exercise.
How to Practice Gratitude
Could improving your mental, spiritual, and physical health really be as simple as incorporating more gratitude practice into your daily life? Well, it certainly can't hurt to try. Worst-case scenario, you'll get into the habit of choosing thankfulness over pessimism, which can't be a bad thing.
If you're not sure where to begin when it comes to practicing gratitude, we've got some great gratitude exercises you can try out for yourself. Feel free to read through these and make note of the exercises that are most appealing to you. From there, you can try as many (or as few) out for yourself to see what you enjoy most.
One of the most popular ways to practice gratitude is to actually keep a gratitude journal. This can be either a physical journal or a digital one that you keep on your computer or your phone/tablet (whatever works best for you). In your gratitude journal, make it a goal to write down things you're thankful for every day. For example, you might write about something as simple as the gratitude you felt when a stranger held the elevator door for you that day. Or, you can write about bigger things, such as gratitude for a promotion at your job or good health news.
By taking the time to actually write down the things you're grateful for, you can better acknowledge and reinforce that concept of gratefulness in your own mind.
Another exercise to consider trying is a "negativity awareness" one. With this practice, you work on getting into the habit of recognizing when your mind is turning to negative thoughts. From there, you use gratitude to overpower those thoughts with more positive ones.
For example, you might find yourself complaining about the high cost of fuel at the pump. However, by being aware of your negative thoughts, you can replace them with positive ones using gratitude. For instance, you might remind yourself that you're grateful you can still afford your fuel, or that you're thankful to own a car.
This practice can be a little more challenging because it does require some mindfulness and self-awareness that doesn't come naturally to everybody. The more you practice this, however, the better you'll become at recognizing those negative thoughts and turning them around.
Write a Letter
Is there somebody in your life who has done a lot for you? Perhaps the first person who comes to mind is a parent, a close friend, or a teacher. Regardless of who it may be, consider writing a letter thanking them for all they have done for you. You don't necessarily have to send the letter, though you certainly can (and doing so will help you achieve that second "stage" of the gratefulness process). Still, simply taking the time to think through and write out what you appreciate about another person can make all the difference in your own mood and outlook.
Try Loving Kindness Meditation
Another exercise to try out is to incorporate your gratitude practice with your meditation. Specifically, "loving kindness" meditation focuses on positivity and feelings of self-love, branching out to expressing gratitude for the people and things that improve your own life. Another common part of this meditation is repeating gratitude affirmations, such as:
- "May I give appreciation today."
- "May I receive appreciation today."
- "May I be happy and safe today."
If meditation is something you enjoy, you might want to give this one a try for yourself.
Cultivating a Gratitude Routine
Above, we've listed just a few of the many ways in which you can express gratitude in your everyday life. The most important thing, however, isn't the exercise you use to practice gratitude—but how often you're deliberately setting aside time to reflect on the thing you're thankful for.
Ideally, you should cultivate a routine that incorporates some form of gratitude practice every single day. Keeping a gratitude journal is probably the easiest and most sustainable way to do this in the long-term, but you can always "mix things up" a bit with different exercises as you see fit.
Consider dedicating a certain portion of your day, for example, to your gratitude practice. This might be first thing in the morning before you really begin your day, or even the last thing before you fall asleep. Many people find that simply making note of 3-5 things they're thankful for before they go to bed can help end the day on a positive note. Others may prefer morning gratitude practice as part of their daily meditation. The key is figuring out what works best for you and sticking to it.
What Are You Grateful For?
Sometimes, it's hard to focus on all the great things we have going on in our lives—as well as the people who helped us get where we are today. By making a conscious effort to focus more on gratefulness, you can give your health and wellness a boost while also making another person's day better. Meanwhile, cultivating an ongoing gratitude practice will help you think more positively, which will reflect on your own actions as well.
World Gratitude Day is coming up on September 21, so consider setting a goal for yourself to get into a regular gratitude routine by then. You might even want to look into doing something special to show your appreciation on World Gratitude Day, such as donating your time and/or effort to a cause that's important to you.
Have we mentioned that we're grateful to you, our audience of Bloomers? Thank you for empowering us to keep doing what we do.