With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gratitude. In the last couple of years I have let negativity get the best of me one too many times. I lost two beloved grandparents in the same year, was suffering from chronic health issues and going through a major change in my career. With all of this going on, I often felt lost, alone, frustrated and thought I had nothing to be grateful for. Instead of focusing on the good in my life, I fell into a pattern of negative thoughts, attitudes and emotions.
There’s no doubt that life has it’s share of heartbreak, disappointments, frustrations, struggles and setbacks. And processing a life experience is a challenge that we most certainly have to deal with. But did you know that your mindset can impact how you cope with difficult times? When we have a grateful perspective on life, minor stresses and even major obstacles can seem much less overwhelming. According to psychology expert, Robert Emmons, consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a “psychological immune system” that can cushion us when we fall.
A daily practice of gratitude can rewire our brain and shift our focus towards the things that we have to be thankful for. Reminding ourselves of all the good things in life (even the small!), shines a new light of positivity and appreciation through which we begin to see the world. Research shows that writing down the things for which we are grateful can have many health benefits. One study in particular from the University of California showed that participants who kept a gratitude journal slept better, experienced less illness, felt happier and more optimistic about their lives, were more resilient to stress, better able to meet goals and exercised more regularly.
Keeping a gratitude journal is one of most effective ways of establishing a daily practice, but can also be challenging to maintain. Here are five tips to help you get started and make it a lasting habit:
Pick your journaling method — there are so many outlets available these days from notebooks to journals, laptops and smartphone apps. I like the good old pen and paper method but the Gratitude Journal 365 or Notes to Self apps are convenient (and free) ways to make gratitude a daily habit.
Set a time of day and stick to it — setting a daily time for journal writing helps you commit each day and keeps you accountable. Find a time that works for you, whether it’s in the morning, afternoon or evening. I like to write at night before bed so I can reflect on my day and the positive experiences that occurred. Set an alarm or reminder in your schedule until the habit sticks.
Choose a minimum number of things to write down per day — whether its one, two or ten, setting a goal will help challenge you to find new things to be grateful for every day. You might find more things to be thankful for today than tomorrow, and that’s okay! Just give yourself something to aim for.
Don’t forget the simple things — what you are grateful for can be as simple as having a good laugh, sharing a meal with a friend or sleeping in on a rainy day. While it’s important to think deeply about what you are thankful for, sometimes it’s the simple things in life that we take for granted.
Keep yourself in check — if you’re having a bad day or falling back into a state of negativity, remind yourself of all the things and people you have to be grateful for. Flipping through your gratitude journal can help transform your thoughts and shift your energy back to a more positive vibe.
In addition to practicing gratitude in our own lives, engaging in acts of gratitude can have a positive impact on both you and the recipient. Saying thank you, treating someone to a coffee or lending a helping hand are just a few ways you can show your appreciation towards others.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? How do you practice gratitude in your every day lives? I would love to know! Feel free to share in the comments below.