Cultivating Gratitude

Spring is the perfect season to think about new practices and habits that help build happiness and positivity. In our day to day lives, it is sometimes easy to focus on the things that make us anxious. Using gratitude techniques can help build resiliency in the face of stress and anxiety (Young & Hutchison, 2012). According to Greenberg (2015), “Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brains’ natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negative aspects of life.” Greenberg goes on to say, “Fostering gratitude can also broaden your thinking, and create positive cycles of thinking and behaving in healthy, positive ways” (2015). Like any other skill, gratitude can be cultivated through simple daily practice. Here are 3 creative ways that you can practice gratitude every day:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal.

When I’m feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed, it helps me to take five minutes and write a quick list of the things I’m grateful for. Studies have shown that daily writing in a gratitude diary over just two or three weeks can “improve mood, optimistic outlook, and life satisfaction,” as well as make you more likely to help others (Greenberg, 2015). This practice can be done in just five to ten minutes a day, and can have other health benefits as well, such as reducing stress and improving sleep (Greenberg, 2015).

  1. Share your highlights.

Researchers have concluded that gratitude not only supports well-being, but is also a predictor of some important social variables, including relationship satisfaction and prosocial behavior (contributing to the good of others) (Young & Hutchison, 2012). Gratitude has also been shown to enhance feelings of connectedness to others (Young & Hutchison, 2012). Something my partner and I do every night before we go to sleep is talk about the highlight of our day. I’ve found that this is a great way to reflect on the day and see what good moments stood out – even if it was a crummy day overall, I’m challenged to find the positive moments. If you want to take this idea a step further, record these highlights on scraps of paper and save them in a recycled mason jar. You and your partner/children/family can all contribute to the jar, and you can set a time to go through and read them.

  1. Try a gratitude challenge.

If you prefer visual journaling to writing, try taking a photo or choosing a collage image that represents something you’re grateful for. If you want to challenge yourself, try doing this every day for a month! There are tons of 30-day challenges available online that provide prompts to get you started (I really like this 30-day photo challenge: http://www.positivelypresent.com/2012/11/30day-gratitude-photo.html).

Sources for this post:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201511/how-gratitude-leads-happier-life

Young, M.E., & Hutchison, T.S. (2012). The rediscovery of gratitude: Implications for counseling practice. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 51(1), 99-113.

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