Gratitude is one of the six most common forms of positivity. When it’s sincere – coming not from rote politeness, but from the heart – it opens and warms us and kindles joy and a desire to reciprocate the kindnesses received. In fact, in her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, describes a dozen scientifically proven strategies to make yourself happier. The first? Expressing gratitude.
But, as is the case with many forms of positivity, the good stuff doesn’t stop at a warm feeling in your chest, as luscious as that is. Here’s what researchers Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough have discovered in their study of gratitude and thankfulness at the University of California, Davis–
People who regularly used gratitude practices like the ones we’ll discuss below:
- Exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week;
- Were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based);
- Had increased levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy;
- Were rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks;
- Had a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more vitality and optimism, and slept better and longer;
- Were more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others; and
- Placed less importance on material goods; they were less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated; they were less envious of wealthy persons; and were more likely to share their possessions with others.
Clearly, counting your blessings packs big mojo as a life-enhancing posture!
The Practice of a Gratitude Ritual
Even though most of us think of ourselves as grateful people, few of us actually take time to consciously connect with our gratitude in a way that allows us to genuinely feel its radiant beauty and upsurging joy to the extent that we could. Creating a gratitude ritual is a potent way to add more of this enriching emotion to your life.
Personal and Community Gratitude Journaling
One simple way to cultivate more conscious gratitude in your life is to keep a gratitude journal. This could be anything from a gorgeous leather-bound journal that you keep especially for recording those things for which you’re grateful, to adding notes about gratitude to an existing journal, to creating a gratitude scrapbook.
You may also enjoy using http://www.gratitudelog.com, a social network where you can elect to follow the entries of others whom you select as well as leave entries of your own. Not only can a shared journal can trigger awareness for you of new or overlooked things that you could feel grateful about, but sharing happiness is a great strategy for increasing it.
How often should you contribute to your gratitude journal? One significant study suggests that making entries once a week is more beneficial than daily entries because you’re less likely to tire of the exercise or to make it into a chore. A weekly entry may be a nice way to conclude a week, or to begin a new one. And, of course, if you find yourself brimming with gratitude, make an entry whenever you want. That’s my favorite strategy: whenever I want. Experiment and pick your own.
Alternate Practices: Ending with Gratitude
If you have little time or inclination for journaling, you may want to adopt the gratitude practice that Barabara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D., author of Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive invented for herself.
She uses endings that occur throughout her day as a trigger for remembering to tune in to her gratitude. When a conversation ends, or a class, or when she leaves a room or a building, or completes a project or a task, she closes it by taking a few seconds to appreciate what she has just experienced and to feel gratitude for it.
Imagine what this practice could do for your marriage or your relationship with your kids or parents or a business partner or colleague? Imagine taking a moment to feel gratitude every time you ended an exchange with one of them! Powerful stuff! (And pencil-free, to boot!)
A variation on Fredrickson’s theme is to use doorways as a trigger. Each time you close a door behind you, remember to be grateful for the experience you are leaving: A safe ride in your car, a friendly clerk at the store, the comfort of your home, that your refrigeration has food in it, the satisfaction of your job, the way the meeting went, the fact that you enjoy indoor plumbing!
Fredrickson also suggests reviving the time-honored ritual of saying grace before meals, either silently or aloud. “Take a moment,” she says, “to offer your sincere thanks for the food that’s before you. You choose whom to thank, whether it be God, the earth, farmers, food handlers, chefs, or all of the above. Feeding yourself will not feel so ordinary if you do.”
Pausing in gratitude before you eat, by the way, is also conducive to eating more mindfully, a practice that increases your enjoyment of your food and allows you to take more care with the quality and quantities of foods your consume.
Doing the Gratitude Dance
Last, but hardly least, you can learn—and pass along—the uproarious gratitude dance.
In gratefulness for your readership and so I can leave you feeling grateful that you read all the way through this article, here’s the video of the gratitude dance . . .
Stay tuned! More tips on how to ramp up your Positivity Ratio are coming soon!