A quick Google search on the topic of gratitude will reveal millions of posts touting its life-changing benefits. Benefits like better health and sleep, more happiness, deeper relationships, increased productivity, decreased depression and anxiety, and improved immunity against disease and illness.
Gratitude helps with all of that and more.
So how exactly do you tap into this miracle practice and express gratitude? And how can you get the most bang for your gratitude buck?
Let’s start with a definition of what gratitude is and how we express it.
The dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful” and a “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” In other words, it’s a feeling and a response to a kindness bestowed upon us.
Robert A. Emmons, the foremost expert on the topic, takes his definition of gratitude a step further, stating that it’s an affirmation that there are good things in the world and that the source of that goodness comes from outside of ourselves.
Does this mean life is perfect? Absolutely not. Nor is it a suggestion to gloss over or ignore the bad stuff. Instead, it’s a belief that goodness exists in spite of the difficulties and struggles we face. And that it has absolutely nothing to do with whether we are worthy of such gifts being bestowed upon us.
So how do we cultivate gratitude in order to affirm that there is goodness in the world?
Emmons suggests a few simple techniques like keeping a gratitude journal, counting your blessings on a regular basis, gratitude jars, and even reverse gratitude (gratitude for an uncomfortable situation coming to an end or even how different our lives would be without something).
Do one or do them all, it doesn’t really matter.
What matters most is that you do it.
Deepening your gratitude practice
Now that we’ve talked about what gratitude is and how to express it, let’s talk about how to get the most bang for your gratitude buck. Each of these techniques has proven invaluable to my own practice and truly taken it to the next level.
- Get specific. Instead of writing about 5 different things each day, write about five reasons why you are grateful for one thing. The more specific you can get with your gratitude, the more you are likely to experience the emotional benefits of gratitude versus the intellectual benefits. It also helps to prevent gratitude fatigue (a real thing) and creates a more lasting impact. (More about it in this video from Marie Forleo.)
- Don’t practice it daily. Research shows that doing gratitude daily can lead to burnout and fatigue, making gratitude less effective. They found that the optimal timeframe for practicing gratitude is 2-3 times per week. So pick 2 or 3 days and block them off on your calendar each week so that you have a standing gratitude appointment with yourself. (Looking for more tips on how to keep a gratitude journal? Check out this post from Greater Good In Action.)
- When you feel gratitude toward someone, tell them. Whether you choose to send a handwritten note or take it a step further with a gratitude visit a la the father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, telling someone why you are grateful for them is a life-changing experience. Not only does it make the other person feel amazing, but it helps you feel a noticeable boost in your mood while deepening your relationship with the person in question. So the next time you write about being grateful for a person in your life, take it one step further and tell them.