Shelby Brawner, Extension Specialist
People who regularly feel and express gratitude tend to be more optimistic and satisfied in life, have higher self-esteems, and sleep better. They also tend to have stronger relationships and communities. In addition, they may even have improved physical health (people who show more gratitude are more likely to exercise and have fewer visits to physicians). They benefit from a boost in their immune system and increased energy levels. It also reduces materialism and helps overcome the desire for material things and increases joy, happiness, and life satisfaction.
What is gratitude?
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the contest). In some ways, it encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a powerful human emotion. It is most simply defined as being thankful for what one has, but it’s not just saying a half-hearted “thanks.” It is a deep appreciation that comes from within and in a meaningful way. It’s a state of mind with a readiness to show appreciation and return kindness. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives.
How gratitude works
If you knowingly focus on the positive aspects of your life, it can help shift your attitude and reduce negative thoughts and feelings. Expressing and acknowledging gratitude helps you affirm the goodness in your life and the sources of this goodness. This in turn can help you keep a better perspective and be more resilient, even in stressful and difficult times. Gratitude helps you, and those with whom you share it, by recognizing your value as an individual, giving you a boost from the positive reinforcement, and everyone will be more inclined to express their thanks.
Adopting a habit of gratitude
You can proactively practice gratitude and make it a regular part of life. Here are a few ideas: Keep a journal. Writing down what you’re thankful for helps keep you thinking about the positive aspects of your life. This may help keep stress and difficulties in perspective. It also gives you a log of positive memories to revisit. You can also use your “notes” on your Smart phone so you always have your “journal” with you. This can be useful if you are thinking about things you’re thankful for and want to jot them down. It can also be handy if you are having a rough day to look back on all the things you have written down.
Send a thank you card. Take the time to write to someone how much you appreciate them and if possible, deliver it in person. Acknowledging people who make a difference in your life can give you a “happiness boost” and give them a boost, too.
Focus on the positive. When good things happen, take time to think about and savor them. Give yourself the time to enjoy positive emotions and experiences and permission to celebrate your own success. Make a mental note. Each day, think about the good things in your life and take a mental picture. This can help you reinforce the positive memories.
Share the joy. Make sharing what you’re grateful for a regular part of your routine. For example, take time during family dinners or outings with friends to share three things your thankful for. Surround yourself with positive people. Energy is contagious. If you’re consistently surrounding yourself with people who are negative or have a bad outlook on life, you will begin to feel the same way. Surround yourself with people who are positive, who not only help to propel you forward but give you valuable information and feedback in order to reach your goals.
Be grateful from the get-go. Treat each day as a blessing rather than a burden. Soon as your alarm goes off in the morning, remind yourself to be grateful with a note by your bed or labeling your alarm. Try not to focus on how much you have to do, but rather how you get to experience life and see your co-workers, family, and friends for another day.
Volunteer. Look for opportunities to serve those who need help. Whether you volunteer in a food bank, pack shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, or go on a mission trip, there are many opportunities to help others.