If you’re reading this article, you have a lot to be thankful for.
Let’s start with the basics. First, you can see well enough to read this story, unlike the nearly 20 million Americans who have trouble seeing, even with glasses. Second, you can read, unlike the 32 million Americans who are illiterate. Third, you have the time to read this, and while it’s impossible to estimate how many Americans have zero free time to spend reading for pleasure, odds are the number is pretty high.
That’s proof enough that even though Thanksgiving is behind us, now is the time to start counting our blessings.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of buzz about the power of gratitude—and for good reason. Research shows that practicing gratitude has real, tangible benefits for our physical and mental health.
One of the biggest names in gratitude research is Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and director of the university’s Emmons Lab, which is currently studying “the nature of gratitude, its causes and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.”
Thus far, Emmons’ findings show that individuals who practice gratitude enjoy a host of benefits: They feel better about their lives, exercise more and feel more alert and enthusiastic. On an especially interesting note, they are more likely to make progress toward specific personal goals.
The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, describes further benefits, such as a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure, higher levels of positive emotions and fewer feelings of loneliness and isolation.
What’s more, both Emmons and the researchers at Berkeley mention that individuals who practice gratitude are more likely to treat other people better. That makes gratitude the catalyst of a powerful virtuous circle.
With all that in mind, below are a few easy ways to start your own gratitude practice. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming or touchy-feely. It just has to become a habit.
1. Keep a gratitude journal. In your journal, write down at least five things you’re grateful for. You can be grateful for anything: your health, your best friend, your dog, your good hair day. Much has been written about making this a daily practice, but research shows that writing in a gratitude journal just once or twice per week is actually more beneficial, because the point of the exercise is not to add one more thing to our to-do lists—it’s to engage in the act of gratitude on a meaningful level. Also, don’t just create a laundry list. Instead, be explicit about why you’re grateful for that person or thing. Chances are, you’ll find it difficult to stop at just five things.
2. Say thank you to somebody in your life. Did someone help you out recently? Lend you a hand? Listen to you when you needed to talk? What about someone who has always been there for you—have you ever thanked that person for everything they’ve done over the course of your friendship or relationship? Now reach out to that person and say thank you. Sure, you can text or email, but you can also go the extra mile and pick up the phone. That said, do what feels right. What matters is that you tell that person you’re grateful for them and why.
3. Take a moment. When you have a spare minute—perhaps it’s just before you go to sleep, or when you’re waiting in line at the post office, or when you’re waiting for your computer to boot up—and think about one thing you’re grateful for. You don’t have to write anything down. Just contemplate that thing and experience the sensation of appreciation. This is an easy way to make gratitude one of your mental habits.
Now go forth, be grateful and reap the benefits—not just this holiday season, but always.