Why Having a Gratitude Practice is a Game Changer and How to Start One

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With all the recent buzz about gratitude practices, most of us know that committing to one can increase your happiness. But did you know it can also improve your health and wellbeing? Research has found that people who practice gratitude experience more positive emotions, better sleep, a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, increased optimism and happinessgreater goodwill toward othershealthier relationships, and less loneliness and isolation. There’s even powerful evidence that it’s quite literally good for your heart. Talk about mind-body connection!

Curious to learn more, we turned to the man at the forefront of the research, Dr. Robert Emmons. A professor at UC Davis, he’s is the director of the Emmons Lab, a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and wellbeing. In other words, the ideal person to bring us up to speed on all things gratitude.

The abundant research out there already had us convinced that gratitude is a powerful tool, but we wondered: Is it necessary to be deliberate about a gratitude practice, or is it enough to just feel grateful when we’re moved to? Emmons says a practice is the way to go. “Left to their own devices, our minds tend to hijack each and every opportunity for happiness,” Emmons explains. “Whether stemming from our own internal thoughts or to the daily news headlines, we are exposed to a constant drip of negativity.” To offset this chronic negativity, we need to continually and perpetually hear good news. “We need to constantly and regularly create and take in positive experiences,” says Emmons. “Gratitude is our best weapon, an ally to counter these internal and external threats that rob us of sustainable joy. In gratitude, we focus on the giftedness of life.”

There are a lot of ways to practice gratitude, from letter writing to gratitude visits to meditations and more. But Emmons believes journaling for gratitude is the best. Here are his top 10 tips for cultivating this practice for yourself:

  • Take five to ten minutes to write at least every other day. Make that commitment and honor it. Choose morning or evening.
  • If you do not have a pen and paper, use the speech-recognition feature on your smartphone to record your gratitudesin the memo pad or equivalent app on your phone.
  • Seek gratitude density. Be specific. Go for depth over breadth. Give details for each entry. The journal is more than just a list of stuff.
  • Try to include some surprises. What unexpected blessings did you benefit from today? What were you dreading that did not happen?
  • Use the language of gifts. Think of the benefits you received today as gifts. Relish and savor the gifts you have been given.
  • Think about the people to whom you are grateful and why. Who deserves your thanks? What have you received or are receiving from them?
  • Think about and then write down those aspects of your life that you are prone to take for granted. Instead, take them as granted.
  • Let your gratitude last a long time. It is okay to repeat a blessing day after day. But do elaborate on each blessing. Give details.
  • Don’t journal only about people who helped you but also about those who have helped people whom you love. We may overlook these sources of gratitude.
  • Be grateful for what didn’t happen—the negative outcomes that you avoided, escaped, prevented, or redeemed into something positive.

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