Besides “Packers win!” or “free lunch”, what two words might make you feel better if you heard them? A genuine “thank you” does the trick for many of us.
People gobble up expressions of gratitude, not because they know the scientific research that supports its benefits, but because they know gratitude makes them feel better. Gratitude not only makes the person receiving it feel better but also the person giving it.
Why Practice Gratitude
Like compassion, gratitude yields tremendous benefits to the giver. People who practice gratitude feel happier, an outcome that is reward enough to offer thanks. Gratitude is a perfect antidote for our negativity bias since it engages our minds in contemplating what goodness fills our lives rather than counting our weals and woes.
Similarly, a dose of gratitude lessens anxiety. If you’re focusing on what’s going right in your life, you’re training your brain to look for the good in the present moment, not fret and stress about what might go wrong in the future.
Little wonder then that those who practice gratitude sleep better. By reminding ourselves of the good, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our “rest-and-digest” response, the opposite of “fight or flight”. (If you’re struggling with sleeplessness, try these practices.)
Gratitude strengthens relationships. As people express gratitude, they alter their perceptions of their partners. The very act of expressing gratitude pulls the focus off the negative and onto the positive, engendering a feeling of community and attachment.
Last, gratitude improves physical health. Given the better sleep, reduced anxiety, increased happiness, and strengthened relationship, this outcome probably doesn’t come as a surprise.
How to Cultivate Gratitude
Don’t wait till next Thanksgiving to see what gratitude can do for you. Try one of the more below for a week and see what difference it makes.
Start with a short mindfulness practice to focus you (instructions at bottom of this link), and then take three minutes to silently name things for which you’re grateful.
Write a thank-you and send it.
Keep a gratitude journal. Add three new things for which you’re grateful every day.
Thank three people each day in person for something specific they’ve done.