Every year at this time, the country turns its attention to giving thanks. Families and friends gather over turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie and give thanks for the blessings they are about to receive. For many, unfortunately, that is the extent of focusing on what they have to be grateful for until next year’s celebration.
What would happen if we practiced gratitude more frequently? If we woke up each morning and gave thanks for the opportunity to experience a brand new day, what would happen? Here are just some of the things that researchers say could happen through the practice of gratitude.
You’ll have a greater sense of well-being
A study conducted by Robert Emmons, University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough, University of Miami, discovered that people who practiced gratitude regularly were more optimistic, which led to an increased sense of well-being. By practicing the simple act of becoming aware of what we have to be thankful for, we can drastically improve the quality of our life.
You’ll have a healthier heart
A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego showed that heart patients who had higher levels of gratitude had better moods, higher quality sleep, less fatigue and less inflammation, a symptom that worsens with the progression of heart disease. Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study, concluded that “it seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart.”
You may live longer
A study at the University College London discovered that elders who were happy with their lives lived 20-35 percent longer than those who were less so. And according to a Scandinavian study of people age 85 and older, those who felt more optimistic about life lived an average of five years longer than their pessimistic counterparts.
While practicing gratitude more frequently may sound easy, the challenges of everyday life often make recognizing the good in our lives difficult. So how can we train our mind to focus on what we have to be thankful for? Here are a few tips.
- Give your attention to those things you want more of
Do you find yourself focusing on the challenges in your life or the joys? Do you pay attention to the good in your life or the problems you face each day? Simply become aware of where you put your attention. This is the first step in deciding to consciously choose what to focus on – and by focusing in the good in your life, you’ll slowly start to become grateful for all there is to be thankful for.
- Keep a gratitude journal
Each day, just jot down a few things for which you are grateful. Research has shown that those who kept a gratitude journal – just a single sentence of five things each day for which they were grateful – were more optimistic and felt happier about life.
- Surround yourself with those things that bring you joy
Once you’ve identified those things for which you’re grateful, make a conscious effort to bring those things into your life more often. For instance, if you’re grateful for the joy you feel when you’re on vacation, start planning your next one, even if it may be some time before you’re able to go. Planning your next vacation will focus your attention on the joy of traveling and you may experience the same health benefits of actually being on vacation. If the actual thing isn’t available, create a visual cue. This could be a photograph of a loved one or favorite pet, or a memento from a past event.
- Give voice to your gratitude
If you’re grateful for having satisfying work that pays for your lifestyle, take a moment to thank your employer for the opportunity to work there. If you’re grateful for your spouse, make sure you vocalize your appreciation frequently.
- Stay in the present moment
A lot of us worry about the future or have regrets about the past. If you find yourself worrying about an upcoming situation or getting depressed about a past mistake, take a moment to look at what’s going on with you right now. You’ll most likely discover that, in the present moment, everything is fine. Acknowledge that and give thanks.