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The Science Behind Gratitude and How It Can Change Your Life

The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. And gratitude doesn’t need to be reserved only for momentous occasions—sure, you might express gratitude after receiving a present from a loved one, but you can also be thankful for something as simple as a delicious piece of pie. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.

Here are a few ways—and research supports—that help not only to start a gratitude practice, but to maintain it for the long haul.

Freshen Up Your Thanks
The best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you’re grateful for every day. Gratitude journaling works because it slowly changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on. While you might always be thankful for your great family, just writing “I’m grateful for my family” week after week doesn’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. Get specific by writing “Today my husband gave me a shoulder rub when he knew I was really stressed” or “My sister invited me over for dinner so I didn’t have to cook.” And be sure to stretch yourself beyond the great stuff right in front of you. Opening your eyes to more of the world around you can deeply enhance your gratitude practice.

Here is a list of topics to jump start your gratitude creativity:

  • What skills or abilities are you thankful to have?
  • What activities and hobbies would you miss if you were unable to do them?
  • List five body parts that you’re grateful for and why.
  • What are you taking for granted about your day to day that you can be thankful for?
  • List five people in your life who are hard to get along with—and write down at least one quality for each that you are grateful for.
  • What materialistic items are you most grateful for?
  • Write about the music you’re thankful to be able to listen to and why.
  • What foods or meals are you most thankful for?
  • What elements of nature are you grateful for and why?
  • What part of your morning routine are you most thankful for?
  • Write a letter to someone who has positively impacted your life, however big or small.
  • What is something you’re grateful to have learned this week?
  • When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably? Relive the memory.

Get Real About Your Gratitude Practice
Being excited about the benefits of gratitude can be a great thing because it gives us the kick we need to start making changes. When we want to achieve a goal, using the technique of mental
contrasting—being optimistic about the benefits of a new habit while also being realistic about how difficult building the habit may be—leads us to exert more effort. Recognize and plan for the
obstacles that may get in the way. For instance, if you tend to be exhausted at night, accept that it might not be the best time to focus for a few extra minutes and schedule your gratitude in the morning instead.

Make Thankfulness Fun By Mixing It Up
University of Rochester partners in crime Edward Deci and Richard Ryan study intrinsic motivation, which is the deep desire from within to persist on a task. One of the biggest determinants is autonomy, the ability to do things the way we want. So don’t limit yourself—if journaling is feeling stale, try out new and creative ways to track your grateful moments. For instance, you could start a gratitude jar and every time you’re feeling gratitude write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. At the end of the month (or year), empty the jar and review everything you wrote. When a good thing happens, think “That’s one for the gratitude jar!” It immediately makes the moment more meaningful and keeps us on the lookout for more.

Be Social About Your Gratitude Practice
Our relationships with others are the greatest determinant of our happiness. So it makes sense to think of other people as we build our gratitude. Robert Emmons suggests that focusing our gratitude on people for whom we’re thankful rather than circumstances or material items will enhance the benefits we experience. And while you’re at it, why not include others directly into your expression of gratitude? Write a gratitude letter to someone who had an impact on you whom you’ve never properly thanked. You could also share the day’s grateful moments around the dinner table. The conversations that follow may give you even more reasons to give thanks.

Taken from happify.com