Gratitude: Why it’s Important and How to Cultivate it

Throughout the last year, I have been working hard at being happier. I have indulged in books that focus on improving one’s happiness: The Happiness Project and Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I’ve read countless articles, blogs, and studies on ways to boost my happiness and become an all-around positive person.

Since I was young, I have suffered from anxiety and depression. It is a crippling disease, and I have worked hard to fight it. Over a year ago, I started seeing someone who has helped me immensely. I have worked hard and have been using different tools to adjust my way of thinking and battle these illnesses. I’m happy to say that a lot of these practices have worked, and I am deeply interested in helping others boost their happiness and battle their own demons.

Lately, I have been working on one particular quality that is difficult for most: Gratitude. It’s the holiday season, the time of year when you reflect on what you are grateful for and express your gratitude to your loved ones, and most importantly, yourself. Keeping and cultivating gratitude is essential to your happiness.  Being grateful helps block out those ugly, negative traits including envy, resentment, and regret. People who are grateful are more optimistic, connected to other people, and have stronger bonds with their friends, family, and loved ones.

Speaking of loved ones, studies have also found that couples who express gratitude are more positive towards each other and more comfortable about expressing concerns about their relationship.

thankful

What does gratitude mean?

The word “gratitude” comes from the Latin term, “gratia,” which also means grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. According to multiple studies, having gratitude promotes better sleep, increases energy, reduces troublesome thoughts, increases generosity and compassion, and reduces those feelings of loneliness and isolation. Studies also find that people who express gratitude regularly have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and are more forgiving and outgoing individuals.

Being grateful produces positive emotions and fine-tunes the ability to relish good experiences. Although all of these qualities sound wonderful and easy to develop, they’re not. Feeling gratitude can be challenging sometimes. We often focus on aspects of our lives that need improvement or fixing rather than appreciating what we already have. Gratitude takes a lot of work and practice.

Robert Emmons,  a scientific expert on gratitude, conducted a study where he asked participants to write a few sentences each week focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for, the second group wrote about things that irritated them, and the third wrote about events that affected them without clarifying if they were positive or negative. The study, naturally, found that those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic about their lives, exercised more, and were overall healthier people than the others.

I would find that I focused too much on the negative and forgot about the positive aspects of my life. As I mentioned, I have been working hard to change my thinking, which, studies have proven, drive our emotions and actions. Instead of saying “I could”, or “I should,” I have been saying “I would like to”, or “It would be easier if.” Those actions have helped, but there were times when I looked past those tools and started comparing or thinking about how I should be. That had to change.

We have plenty of things to be grateful for, and it’s important to recognize them every day.  I have found that these five, simple steps I have learned through research have helped cultivate my gratitude. Since I have been practicing them, I am a happier, more motivated person.

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

There are a few simple steps you can take in order to cultivate gratitude. These practices can be done in five minutes throughout your day, or you can take a few minutes and go the extra mile for ultimate gratification. Either way, these tips will help you build your gratitude and give you boosts of happiness, increase your energy, and give you a higher sense of self-esteem.

 

 

 Say, “thank you”

Saying “thank you” to someone, whether it is in writing or verbally, is a great way to express gratitude. This can be done on a sticky note, sending a card, writing an email, or physically walking up to the individual and thanking them. Not only will it make the person who helped you feel happy that you recognized their good deed, but it will also boost your happiness, too.

Keep a gratitude journal

Take some time out of your day to sit down and write about what you are grateful for. This can be done in bullet point format, or you can dig deeper and write a few paragraphs about why you are feeling grateful. Forming the habit to write in your journal will also help you be more aware of your gratitude throughout the day. Try not to be skeptical and think, “what if I have a bad day?” There will always be something to write in your journal even if it is: “I am alive.”

That’s something to be grateful for!

Mentally count your blessings

When your day is starting to feel a little hectic, stop in your tracks and list a few things in your head that brings you gratitude. Doing so will help you focus on the positives rather than the negatives, and give you that little boost of energy and motivation you may need to keep going. While you’re sitting at your desk or driving in your car, mentally list all of the things you are grateful for. It definitely helps.

Accept the bad, embrace the good

Everyone has negative experiences that they regret, but it’s crucial to look past those times and reflect on all of the positives going on.The true path to happiness is accepting your flaws and generating a more positive outlook for the future. So, accept the bad and embrace the good. For every bad thought, challenge it with a positive one. You’ll find that the good outweighs the bad, and you are worth the fight.

Use visual reminders

Keeping a visual reminder is an extremely helpful practice to boost your gratitude. At my desk, I keep pictures of my sister, fiancé, and closest friends close by to help remind me that I have plenty of things to be grateful for. Having visual reminders like photographs of your family, friends, and loved ones, or even a picture of an object or idea that brings you joy, is a quick and easy way to boost your gratitude.

Did I miss any? What are your thoughts on gratitude, and how to cultivate it? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

 

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