Have you ever stopped and contemplated gratitude for just a moment? Think about how it makes you feel to have someone say, “thank you.” Even if all you did was hold a door open for them, those two words made something light up inside you. Today there are several countries that have a day of thanks set aside to appreciate the blessings of their harvest. This tradition goes back centuries in almost all cultures. The Bible teaches to give thanks always or in every circumstance and even that it is a sin to not give thanks. Why would gratitude be important enough to be at the foundation of civilization?
Today’s society seems to focus on the fact that we need to do more, be more, have more, and be the best at everything. What an energy drain! As we give all we have to try to become just a little bit better we begin to see anxiety, depression, illness, addictions, relationship challenges, and more. We are simply unhappy.
Social scientists have investigated this challenge and have mountains of data that all points to one easy step to take to rediscover peace and happiness in your life – gratitude. Robert Emmons is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He has studied its effects for more than a decade and has found that it is one of the most potent devices to improve both mental and physical health there is. He recommends a gratitude journal. This is simply a notebook or app where you regularly record things for which you are grateful. The ideal is to record three things every day, but start wherever you can, each step is progress. He reports,
“Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic; in our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks. And yet the results have been overwhelming. We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated.
The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.” Why Gratitude Is Good | Greater Good (berkeley.edu)
Simple Enough for a Child
I strive to bring gratitude into my life and can always see when I’m slipping. I have kept a gratitude journal for several years and it was hard at the beginning. Some days the three things I was thankful for might be, 1) the world didn’t end, 2) I ate a piece of chocolate, 3) my dishwasher didn’t break. Silly things, but they are powerful things.
I hadn’t really given the changes it was making in my life much thought until one day I was working outside with my nephew who was about eight years old, and he was griping about this and that. I stopped him and asked him to please say seven good things. “Why?” he asked me. “Because,” I said, “everything you’re saying is negative and negativity isn’t good for the soul.” Well, he didn’t say anything positive, instead he quit talking. I was wondering if I needed to apologize, if I had offended him and was getting the silent treatment. After a few minutes he started saying a list of things for which he was grateful. When he had finished, he was quiet again for a moment, then he said, “You were right, I feel better.”
How to Start
Here are some quick, easy-to-do hacks to change your life:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Simply grab a notebook or download an app for your phone and each day if possible, or just once a week, record 1-3 things for which you are grateful. They don’t have to be deep or profound. Sometimes you may just jot down a list, other days you may find you want to write a paragraph or more.
- Take three minutes and just be quiet and think of things you are grateful for. If your life is filled with children and chaos, these three minutes might be found in the shower. Incorporate them into a daily meditation. Count blessings while you are driving.
- Post-it notes are impressive! Grab some and start jotting down things you are thankful for and post them around your bedroom, office, desk, bathroom, wherever you will see them, so they keep grateful thoughts in your mind.
- Take those post-it notes and share the gratitude! Jot down compliments, thank yous, or positive thoughts and start handing them out. Put them on your kids’ bedroom doors, stick one on the window of the car for your spouse to see or random cars in a parking lot. Put them on the mailbox or the door where your packages are delivered. Involve your kids, have them point out someone’s cool hair at the grocery store and write down that you like it, then have them hand it to them. (Always be safe, stay with your children when they are interacting with strangers).Offer up a prayer that is only thanks. So often we only talk to God when we are in trouble or need something. Take a moment to just give thanks for a bunch of things, set a goal with a timer of only saying thank you for things for three minutes.
- Make the last thing you tell your loved ones a thank you. As they’re heading out the door to go to work or school tell them thank you for something. As you’re telling them good night tell them thank you for something else. This brings you up, it brings them up, and it creates a relationship bond that is wonderful!
Proof Gratitude Works
I worked with a physical therapist for several years and one of the first things he would do was challenge his patients to spend three minutes a day sitting quietly and thinking of only things they were grateful for. I was always amazed at how many of them said that they could see a decrease in pain afterward!
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month. Giving thanks can make you happier – Harvard Health
Gratitude is Our Way to Change Our Life
There are so many things in life that are beyond our control but being grateful is not one of them. We control whether we say thank you. Whether we take a moment and count our blessings. If we give someone a compliment. It is all up to us. Emotions tend to travel in packs, they follow the “like attracts like” law. If you are surrounded by negativity you need to deliberately invite the positives in to drive them out. Gratitude hangs out with hope, grace, honor, appreciation, happiness, joy, and more.
Dale Carnegie summarized it best in his book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” when he said, “Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other stars.” Start seeing stars and you will become a star!