Increase the Level of Gratitude in Your Life
Gratitude and happiness are intertwined and for good reason. It is no coincidence that positive psychology practitioners and happiness experts state that in order to increase your contentment in life you need to boost your level of gratitude.
You can never be too grateful. When you take for granted the people and things you have in your life, instead of being grateful for them, you are missing out on an opportunity to live a healthier and happier life.
You are also ignoring the strength of social connection that gratitude creates. Not only will practicing gratitude benefit you psychologically and socially, but physically you will feel better as well.
Like anything else in life the benefits of gratitude can be cultivated through concentrated practice. There are a multitude of exercises at your disposal that will sustain your desire to manifest more gratitude into your life. And therefore, more well-being and contentment.
If you would like to increase the level of gratitude in your life, here are five suggestions for getting started.
1) Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal
This is probably the most effective strategy for increasing your level of gratitude. Set aside time daily to record several things that you are grateful for. (Typically, people list three to five.) You can write when you get up or at the end of the day. Pick a time that you will consistently have available. You can use a book like the Journal of Gratitude or write on loose-leaf paper or a notebook. The important thing is to establish the daily practice of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events and to write them down. In Emmons’ words, the act of writing “allows you to see the meaning of events going on around you and create meaning in your own life.” For an example of the use of a gratitude journal, see Joan Buchman’s article The Healing Power of Gratitude.
2) Use Visual Reminders
Two obstacles to being grateful are forgetfulness and lack of awareness. You can counter them by giving yourself visual cues that trigger thoughts of gratitude. Emmons says he puts Post-It notes listing his blessings in many places, including on his refrigerator, mirrors and the steering wheel of his car. Another strategy is to set a pager, computer or PDA to signal you at random times during the day and to use the signal to pause and count blessings.
3) Have a Gratitude Partner
Social support encourages healthy behaviors, because we often lack the discipline to do things on our own. Just as you may be more likely to exercise if you have an exercise partner or participate in a class, you may be able to maintain the discipline of gratitude more easily if you have a partner with whom to share gratitude lists and to discuss the effects of gratitude in your life. Emmons says, “If we hang out with ungrateful people, we will ‘catch’ one set of emotions; if we choose to associate with more grateful individuals, the influence will be in another direction. Find a grateful person and spend more time with him or her.”
4) Make a Public Commitment
We feel accountable when we make commitments to others. In our self-help course, we have people set weekly goals for themselves. The fact that the goal is made publicly to a group, makes it more likely that people will follow through. For a discussion of how to achieve short-term goals, see the chapter on goals and targets in our course text, available in the Online Books section of the Library.
5) Change Your Self-Talk
We all carry on an inner dialogue with ourselves that is often called “self-talk.” When this inner conversation is negative, our mood is usually low. Research has shown that we can change our mood by changing the tone of the things we say to ourselves. For an introduction to this approach, called cognitive therapy, and a description of a three-step process to change your self-talk, see the article “Taming Stressful Thoughts”.