People who are grateful benefit from less stress, a general sense of well-being, improved cognition and social performance, and reduced risks for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. Physical health benefits can include lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and more restful sleep. A strong sense of appreciation helps develop a healthy mind which in turn can make us more inclined to make healthy decisions for our bodies. The cultivation of gratitude can also deepen our relationships, and help us to be more forgiving of one another.
Gratitude begins with a process for deliberately noticing the good things in life. Developing a gratitude practice can shift us to a more thankful state of mind and can curb negative emotions.
This is not to say that we should only focus on positive things and reject negative emotions. A gratitude habit doesn’t ignore complicated feelings, difficult decisions, and challenging experiences. It can, however, minimize the possibility of ruminating over those things in an unhelpful way.
Below are some tips for cultivating a gratitude practice. New habits take time to develop, and are often more successful when paired with an existing habit. For instance, you could consider writing in a gratitude journal while having your morning coffee or as as a part of your bedtime routine.
Studies show that keeping a gratitude journal can have positive psychological and physiological effects. There are a variety of ways to build this practice, including:
Make your gratitude practice social by writing and sending thank you letters to someone who has done something for you. (Note: emails and even texts count.) Studies show that this act can strengthen relationships, help people to appreciate what they’ve received in life, and feel like they’ve given something back to those who have helped them.
Mental subtraction is when you imagine what your life would be like if certain positive events had not occurred. This strategy can make you more aware of (and grateful for) the good things in your life. For instance, “If I had not decided to attend Hopkins, I wouldn’t have met my best friend,” or “If I didn’t have my car, I wouldn’t be able to visit my family at the holidays.”
We can teach children about gratitude by modeling our practices for them. Discuss gratitude with a child, and demonstrate what it means to appreciate things that can be taken for granted.
Some examples include: