Traditionally, November is the time of year people reflect on things they’re thankful for. You may see gratitude challenges on social media encouraging you to list something that you’re grateful for every day for the month. And, while it may seem contrived, it can actually be beneficial.
In our fast-paced and materialistic social media society, many people work long hours to buy things they think they’re entitled to, to show friends and family how great their life is. But are they genuinely happy? Well, it’s hard to tell. But, according to research, gratitude is the quintessential key to happiness—not monetary items or even social status.
How can practicing gratitude daily help us?
Research shows that practicing gratitude every day can help replace feelings of anxiety and burnout. And that also, overall, having gratitude makes us happier people.
According to Harvard Medical School, practicing gratitude has many positive effects, including better health, relationships, and overall greater happiness. In a publication featuring results of several studies, they state: Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier or thinking they can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met.”
In addition, “The Science of Gratitude,” by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley lists numerous benefits of practicing gratitude including:
- Better physical health
- Increased optimism
- Greater satisfaction in life
- Less materialistic
- Protection against burnout
- Increase in self improvement
- Better sleep
- Increased happiness
Does practicing gratitude really work?
If you’re not someone who regularly practices gratitude, start with small acts of kindness.
- Say “thank you” to the person who holds the door for you, and genuinely mean it.
- Write a thank you note once a week to someone who you appreciate or to thank them for something they’ve done. The simple act of writing a note is enough to shift our emotions from negative and toxic to positive.
- Write a letter to someone to express gratitude for something past or present. You may never send the letter, but the act of writing it is enough to change your mood.
- Pay it forward.
- Be a genuine listener – not someone waiting for their turn to talk.
- Begin to acknowledge the good things in your life. When you express gratitude and acknowledge the good things in your life, you begin to realize that you aren’t alone in this world, that others have helped you along the way. Over time, it changes how you think.
Another way to begin your gratitude journey is by journaling. There are a variety of ways you can journal, from old-school pen and paper to a variety of apps such as “Happify,” “My Gratitude Journal,” “Gratitude Journal 365,” and “Gratitude Diary.” Some of these journaling methods have you list things you’re thankful for, while others make a game out of it by offering rewards. Whichever you choose, the primary focus is on being intentional in your gratitude. Again, shifting your mindset.
This can help tremendously as we age, as well. Sometimes, retirees can become a bit lonely and feel isolated once they aren’t working an 8-to-5 job anymore. To avoid these feelings, instead direct thoughts to all you are thankful for, the things you’ve accomplished in your lifetime, and most of all be grateful you can now enjoy retirement!
As the Harvard article states, “Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”
If you don’t practice gratitude on a daily or even monthly basis, Thanksgiving just might be the perfect time to start.