With Thanksgiving around the corner, we can look forward to waves of thankfulness shouted from the rooftops (errr, Facebook) — and that’s, well, great! However, did you know practicing gratefulness has been proven to have a positive impact on overall mental and physical health?
A recent study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) showed practicing gratitude can increase happiness by up to 25% and serves as a way to battle depression, and reduce anxiety and stress levels.
According to the study, those who are grateful:
- Are more charitable
- Will have 10% fewer stress-related illnesses and are more physically fit
- Have stronger bonds with others and their communities
- Make healthier choices throughout the day
- Exude more positive emotions, which aid in overall well being
Like any skill, gratitude is best practiced consistently before becoming a good habit. With this in mind, we’ve developed a 4-week guide to gratefulness that is simple, practical and sure to have you feeling on top of the world.
Week 1: Start Small
The first week’s goals should be simple. These little practices will help build a foundation of gratitude implementation. You know… crawl before you walk kind of thing:
Jot your thoughts: At the end of each day jot down a few things you’re grateful for (or even just one) – you can start out with the more obvious choices (family, friends, pets), but try to go smaller: your favorite song played on the radio, the compliment from your boss, etc. It’s surprising how this practice makes us think of the unusual things happening in our day-to-day lives, prompting us to dig deeper than just the obvious stuff. It can also get you to be more specific – you’re grateful, but why are you grateful?
Snap a photo without the social intent: Sometimes we become so fixated on taking the “best” picture to share on social media and we don’t stop to enjoy the moment. Start snapping photos of things that make you feel something inside – a homemade lunch or a screenshot of a message that put a smile on your face in the midst of a crazy day – keep that album as your end-of-week go-to over a cup of coffee, for no ones benefit but your own.
Week 2: Reach Out
Once you’ve gotten in touch with your own sense of gratitude, it’s time to share the wealth. Too often, we don’t express kind and thoughtful gestures to those around us; most of whom are typically there for us when we need them. Saying “thank you” has gotten to be more of a formality than a kind gesture, so when you go the extra mile, it can speak volumes.
Writing goes a long way:
Thank you notes don’t need to be novels. Leaving a quick handwritten note or sending one in the mail is a pleasant surprise most of us have grown to not expect. Also important to note: you don’t need to be thanking someone for a specific thing they did for you. Maybe it’s that they’re the refreshing laugh you hear at lunchtime or the gal who makes sure the coffee is stocked for you daily. It’s about the unexpected and you’ll be surprised how their gratefulness for your act will boomerang back to you.
Do talk to strangers:
Start up a conversation in a elevator, pay it forward at the coffee shop, help a passer-by carry his groceries. Random acts of kindness tend to have a ripple effect — one causes another. Be grateful that you’re capable of this generosity and know that it will give you a boost in return.
Week 3: Gratitude in the Present
By week 3, it should be easier to recognize moments during the day for which you are grateful. Be sure to pause and reflect during the day and take in your surroundings; this practice will immediately put you in the present moment, which is said to be important for mental clarity and emotional well-being. Try these tactics to really take advantage.
Take one day to focus on one or two of your senses. Count all of the colors you see, identify the scents you smell, appreciate the texture of your food. Go for a drive with the windows down and no radio on; acknowledge what’s going on around you. Gratefulness can come by just observing your current surroundings too.
Get that glass half full:
No, you’re not supposed to wake up every morning with sunshine and rainbows beaming out of you (and if you do, then you’re the unicorn of the group). There are, however, simple tweaks that can help take your day on a positive course, such as practicing empathy. When you get cut off by the car in front of you, think about why that person may need to get to work earlier than you — maybe she’ll lose out on a paid day of work to support her family if she’s late.
Week 4: Becoming Routine
If you’ve made it this far, practicing gratitude is becoming integrated into your everyday life. After taking in everything you’ve become acquainted with over the past few weeks, put that energy and attitude into bigger, broader moments.
With a better grasp on gratitude yourself, you can teach others around you how they can live more gratefully. Share your experiences and how its helped you with your friends, family or colleagues. People learn from the insight and experience of others, so maybe you’re just what they need to begin the journey themselves.
Resurface your guiding lights:
Think of someone who had a real impact on your life who you haven’t seen in some time — maybe a teacher, a neighbor or an old colleague. Get in touch with them, whether by email, text or phone to reconnect. Too often we forget how one person from our past got us to where we are today. Expressing gratitude in this way can be a powerful reminder that we can have a major influence on someone else’s life.
By taking these small steps and staying persistent with them, a grateful perspective should be much easier to attain. You may find yourself happier, less bogged down with worry and negativity, and able to share the joy with those around you.
Gratitude is such a potent force that can put things into perspective, deepen relationships, and eases fears and anxieties. All the more reason to keep up this practice, no matter the holiday or time of year.