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Living Well: The Practice of Gratitude

What is Gratitude?

According to the Oxford dictionary, gratitude means the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. It is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of what they lack.

Gratitude is the practice of taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you are thankful for in life. It doesn't have to be only for significant occasions or things like your home, food on the table, or a promotion at work. It is important to appreciate what I like to refer to as ‘the little big things’ and everyday moments – like a kind gesture by a stranger, a conversation with a friend or a delicious and healthy meal.

People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. There is no right or wrong… and there are no rules! It can be a thought, a daily or weekly journal, or a conversation with your family.  Gratitude can be cultivated through practice. And although it may feel forced at first, the more we practice gratitude, the more this becomes part of your innate way of being or thinking.

Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

There are many significant benefits of practicing gratitude. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience greater happiness and more positive emotions, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, build strong relationships and even have stronger immune systems. Research shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.


Starting a Gratitude Practice

There are multiple ways to practice gratitude. Choose what works best for you. And remember, there are no rules! It doesn’t have to always be practiced exactly the same either; don’t hesitate to make a change in how, when, and how often you express gratitude to yourself or others.

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.

Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one your thoughts about the gifts or experiences you've received each day. Pick a time either daily or weekly to sit down and write about it. Reflect on your day and what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number, but it does not need to be a long list and it can be just one! Be specific about what you choose to write; think about the sensations and feelings you experienced.

Think about what you are grateful for. No time to write? Mentally acknowledge the thought of gratitude; again, be specific.

Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter.  Mail it, email it or deliver it in person, if possible. Once in a while, write one to yourself, too!

Thank someone mentally. It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual. Along with thoughts of gratitude, you can also send loving thoughts and kindness to that person.

Pray. Individuals can use prayer to cultivate gratitude; this involves taking the time to be thankful for blessings. Recognizing gratitude reinforces for many that the source of goodness is outside of themselves – a higher power or nature – that is bigger than them.

Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (called a mantra), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for.

My family and I share a family gratitude journal; usually, before bed time, we will spend a few minutes reflecting on our day and take turns capturing them in our journal. Other times, we may discuss things we are grateful for during dinner. When we first started, my only “rule” so to speak was to be thoughtful and reflect on the day we had… and make it specific. Of course, we are thankful for the “big” things too! But the more specific and more aware we can be of all the different grateful “moments” helps to slowly change the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on.

What ways do you practice gratitude?

Rita Williams, MA, CHES

Rita Karapurkar Williams, MA, CHES, is a certified Wellness Inventory Coach at Beebe Healthcare and has completed certificate programs in Integrative Health and Lifestyle, and mindfulness curriculum training. Beebe Wellness offers support that can help you on your journey to obtaining your vision of health.