The words “gratitude” and “grateful” can be found on the front of magazines, on house décor, on the front of notebooks, in cards, and there are even journals specific to gratitude. With the words appearing more frequently, we may be left asking ourselves, what does gratitude even mean and how do we practice it?
What is Gratitude?
Merriam-Webster defines gratitude as: “the state of being grateful: Thankfulness.” When we see this definition, we may become confused about how expressing gratitude and being grateful relates to mental health. Luckily, scientists who focus on research in positive psychology have proven that practicing gratitude individuals experience more positive emotions, have increased resiliency, and it also helps individuals build strong relationships. The world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons, stated “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.” Gratitude is a way to give appreciation to what we have been given whether those things are tangible or intangible. Gratitude also creates a sense of connection, humans need connection whether that is with others, with themselves, nature, or with a higher power. By feeling connected we are able to combat symptoms of depression such as sadness and isolation.
Gratitude can be applied to the past, present, or future thus increasing our chances of combating negative emotions. When we apply gratitude to our past, we can increase our resiliency by reflecting on positivity in the midst of adversity that may have occurred in our childhood upbringings. By practicing gratitude in the present moment, we get the chance to be more mindful and fully engage in the moment. Gratitude for the future can increase feelings of hope and optimism however, we want to be cautious not to create destination happiness. By appreciating the past, present, and future we are able to focus our intentions on what we have rather than, what we lack.
Below are quick tips on applying gratitude to a daily routine and increasing a sense of happiness:
Gratitude Journaling: This is probably the most popular way to practice gratitude. First, decide a good time journaling will fit best in your routine and then decide how often you will be able to engage in journaling. Then, each time you journal, spend some time reflecting on things to appreciate and positive experiences that have occurred and write them down. By creating a journal of positive experiences it gives us the chance to look back and increase optimism for the future.
Thank you: Engaging in the behavior of thanking is a way to express your gratefulness for others and to strengthen your relationship with them. Ways to practice this could be in the moment verbalizing it to someone, sending a thank you card, writing someone an appreciation letter, or taking time to visit someone and share what you appreciate the relationship. Passing along one act of thanking the hope is to see a ripple effect of appreciation.
Create a Gratitude Jar: Gratitude jars are a fun way to include others in gratitude practice. To create a gratitude jar, first, find a jar or box and spend time decorating it together, then find slips of paper to keep next to the jar. Each day fill out at a slip of paper with something you were grateful for that day and then place the paper in the jar. Once the jar is full, share what the slips of paper said with one another to reflect on the past.
Mindfulness: A great way to practice gratefulness in the moment is through the use of mindfulness skills practice. Mindfulness is the state of focusing all of one’s attention to the present moment. One mindfulness skill to ground ourselves in the present moment is through the use of the five senses. Take a minute to look around and name 3 things that you can see, touch, hear, smell, and taste that you are grateful for. This allows us to focus on the present moment and increase our sense of connection.
Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Giving thanks can make you happier. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
Gratitude Definition: What Is Gratitude. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition