Develop a Gratitude Attitude

Thanksgiving, 30-day gratitude challenges, and #thankfulthursdays certainly make us more mindful of being thankful, but what if you practiced gratitude every single day? You may find that you become a happier, healthier individual. Here are seven reasons to practice gratitude daily: 

1. You’ll be happier: “Gratitude increases your personal experience of happiness and satisfaction with life,” says University of Mary Washington Psychology Professor Holly Schriffrin. A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania involved test subjects writing a thank-you note to someone they had never properly thanked and delivering it to them in person. Afterwards, the ones who wrote the thank-you notes expressed a major increase in their happiness scores – with benefits lasting up to a month later!

2. It will strengthen your relationships for the better: “Expressing gratitude makes people around you happier and strengthens your relationship with them, and strong relationships are highly associated with greater happiness,” Schriffrin says. A recent study of couples found that those who expressed gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward them. 

3. You’ll become more positive and optimistic: A study conducted at the University of California, Davis, found people who jotted down a few sentences each week for 10 weeks about things they were grateful for felt more optimistic and positive about their lives. “When we are more positive, we are more likely to respond to life positively, leading to more positive outcomes,” says Michael D. McGee, MD, Chief Medical Officer at The Haven at Pismo. “Gratitude makes life go better.”

4. Your problems won’t seem as big: People who tend to focus on the negative may often blow things out of proportion (this is called “catastrophizing’). However, “when we have a positive and encouraging outlook on our future and our lives, our issues are more manageable,” says Mary Bennett, a therapist at Texas Health HEB’s Springwood Behavioral Health Center in Bedford, TX. Taking time to see the positives and feel grateful for things – even trials and tribulations that inevitably come along in life – helps us see things more clearly and act more rationally.

5. It gets you into the habit of looking for the good: Being grateful for the “BIG” things in life like a new job, landing a huge client, buying a house, earning a considerable bonus, etc. is easy. But appreciating things like clean drinkable water, reliable transportation, electricity, and just waking up each morning, can make a big difference. “When you take the time to notice what you DO have, you’re not so focused on what is missing,” says Lisa Ryan, Chief Appreciation Strategist at Grategy.

6. Others will notice: “One of the people who took my 30-day gratitude challenge shared that his wife said, ‘What’s going on with you, you’re not nearly as grouchy as you used to be,’” Ryan says. It’s hard not to notice when someone you know is becoming more thankful and gracious. It makes you want to be around them even more! 

7. It boosts your health: Multiple studies show that being grateful boosts immune function and heart health, reduces stress, anxiety and depression, improves sleep quality, and increases longevity. Research shows people who practice gratitude tend to exercise more and have fewer visits to the doctor. “If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure,” says Max Lucado in his book, “Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World.”

Gratitude is deeper than a feeling. It is an attitude. “It stems from the practice of an attitude of humble appreciation for reality exactly as it is, no matter how painful,” says McGee. “It is this spiritual practice that leads to the ‘peace that passeth all understanding.’ 

McGee says it starts with acceptance of things the way they are, but with practice, it is possible to “develop an attitude of unconditional appreciation for this perfectly imperfect, sacred reality. It is the intentional practice of this attitude that brings on the sense of internal and external peace, regardless of our circumstances.” This practice essentially takes the suffering out of distress.

“You can try an ‘attitude adjustment’ to try and view things more positively, and it can help,” says Dr. Gary Malone, medical director at Texas Health Mansfield Recovery and Wellness Center in Mansfield, Texas. “A broader therapy includes systematically counting your blessings while addressing self-doubts and resentments in an adult-like way. This usually gives longer-lasting change.”

If your gratitude attitude needs some work, it’s OK. The good news is, you can literally rewire your brain through a process called “neuroplasticity” to become more grateful – and therefore begin reaping the benefits of practicing gratitude. Here are some ways to make giving thanks a normal part of your daily (or weekly) routine: 

“A simple way to get started with your very own gratitude practice is to keep a journal,” says Julie Potiker, author of “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.” “Visit your favorite bookstore or craft store and pick out a journal that inspires you. Keep it by your bedside for easy access.” Bonus: “The physical act of writing has more benefits for your neural health than typing on a keyboard,” she adds.

Here’s how to make the most out of your gratitude journal, according to Potiker:

  1. When you wake up in the morning, write down one or more things about your life that you are grateful for.
  2. During the day, notice times when you feel joy. Take in this good mental state for a couple of breaths, allowing it to wire into a neural trait. Before you go to bed, write down one or two things that happened during the day that you’re thankful for or that you enjoyed.

“You can write one-word answers or whole paragraphs,” says Potiker. “The ideas don’t need to be monumental. They could be as simple as gratitude for having a soft pillow.”

Writing down what you are grateful for, or what you were doing when you felt joy, will open your heart to more happiness. “If you can recreate the feeling of joy in your body when you remember the activity that you are writing about, and you let it fill you up with gladness, you are rewiring your brain for more happiness and resilience a second time from the same joyful activity!” Potiker explains.

Other ways to practice gratitude, according to Bennett, include putting things in perspective by asking yourself, What’s good about this? What can I learn from this? How can I or someone else benefit from this? And, Is there something about this I can be grateful for? She also suggests writing a thank-you note to someone and delivering it yourself as well as acknowledging times when you feel ungrateful. “Let [these times] wash over you — do not push them away,” she says. “Then, find a way to re-frame the thought into something you can feel grateful for.”

Anita Lesko, author of “Visualizing Your Future: Re-Wiring Your Brain for Success!” says that her tips to practice gratitude include being thankful for even the smallest things like sipping a mug of hot cocoa on a chilly winter day or feeling the breeze and smelling the salt air as you walk on the beach. She also suggests to be grateful for your challenges, as they will build your resilience and character, only making you stronger and better. “By maintaining [this] way of thinking, you will re-wire your brain for gratitude as a normal way of life,” she says. 

By LaRue V. Gillespie