By Dr. Ari Bernstein
Cultivating a regular gratitude practice can literally change your life. Gratitude is a powerful force that can have widespread effects on your emotions, your relationships, and even your physical health.
UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, who has studied the effects of gratitude for more than a decade, reports that intentionally practicing gratitude can have a significant impact on both psychological and physical health.
People who regularly practice gratitude experience more positive emotions, feel less stressed, and are more optimistic. They also have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and fewer aches and pains.
All of those benefits can be achieved with simple practices that take only a few minutes a day. Try some of these gratitude practices and start reaping the rewards of greater health and emotional well-being.
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Perhaps the most common gratitude practice, keeping a gratitude journal is an easy way to bring more gratitude into your life. Keeping a gratitude journal can help change the way you see the world around you and focus on the positive.
Set aside time every day to write down at least five things you are grateful for. You can choose to write in your gratitude journal first thing in the morning or reflect on your day before going to bed. I try to think of new things to be grateful for every day, and be as specific as possible. For example, instead of just writing “I’m grateful for my husband,” think of something specific that your husband did that day, such as “I’m grateful my husband made dinner so I could relax after work.”
2. Watch Your Language
It’s very common for people to use language and self-talk that focuses on the negative. You may even do it yourself without realizing it. How often do you utter phrases such as “nothing ever goes my way,” “that’s just my luck,” or “I’ll never be able to lose weight”?
Cultivate more gratitude by talking about yourself and your life in a positive light. Start paying more attention to your negative self-talk, and when you notice it, flip it around and find something to appreciate instead.
3. Perform an Act of Kindness
If you see an opportunity to help someone else, act on it. Taking a few minutes to perform an act of kindness can help you be more thankful for the good things in your life. Pay for someone’s coffee, leave an extra big tip for your server, or offer to help a co-worker with a tough project. Even something as simple as leaving a positive comment on someone’s Facebook post can really brighten their day.
4. Create a Gratitude Jar
Whenever something good happens, write it down on a slip of paper and place it in a gratitude jar. I like to take out all the slips of paper and read them on New Year’s Eve. Not only does it remind you of all the positive moments from the past year, but you’ll also set yourself up to start the new year from a place of gratitude.
5. Ask Yourself Three Questions
Try the Japanese practice of Naikan, a method of self-reflection that can help put situations in perspective. Naikan is based on three questions. When you’re faced with a difficult situation, or if you just want to gain a greater understanding of yourself and your relationships, ask yourself: “What have I received from this situation or relationship?”, “What have I given to this situation or relationship?”, and “What troubles and difficulties have I caused in this situation or relationship?”. This can help you gain a more realistic view of your own behavior and help you be more appreciative of the people and circumstances in your life.
The more you practice gratitude, the more you’ll naturally find ways to weave it into your everyday routine. Start with these simple practices and look for other creative ways you can express and cultivate gratitude in your life.