“My oh my, we have a lot to be thankful for.”
I can still hear my grandma’s voice saying this to our family and it was a common message in my home growing up. Lately, with Thanksgiving in mind, I have been thinking a lot about this message and I think this year has really brought to light how much I do have to be thankful for. I think all of us have been told at one point or another to count our blessings or be grateful for all we have and at a basic level realize the importance of gratitude.
And in recent years it has become a topic of interest in the scientific community and we can now confidently say that science has finally caught up to that age-old advice from grandma of the importance of counting our blessings. In fact, there have been hundreds of studies on the effects of gratitude and the findings and benefits to our mental and physical health are remarkable.
Gratitude is all about taking the time to recognize and appreciate what you have received in life and numerous studies have found that the regular practice of gratitude does far more than just make us feel good. It is linked to increased overall well-being and happiness, improved health, better sleep, stronger relationships, improved work performance, and less stress.
Even though I think most of us recognize how experiencing and expressing gratitude can be beneficial and it is probably something that many of us value, how often do we truly step back and appreciate all the good in our lives and practice gratitude? In addition, seeing the good in life and regularly practicing gratitude may be trickier than we realize.
The funny thing is, our brains are actually hardwired to notice, remember, and spend more time thinking about negative things that happen in our lives. Although this negativity bias’s intentions are good--with the evolutionary purpose of keeping us alive and safe-- it can also cause some problems regarding our mental and emotional health or overshadow all of the good things in our lives if we aren’t careful. Since this biological mechanism of noticing, remembering, and thinking about the negative things happens automatically, it’s important that we are proactive and make it an intentional practice to counteract the negativity bias by noticing and remembering all the good things happening in our lives. Often, we need to hunt for what is good and cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I think this is especially true for many of us right now who have had a difficult year and may be struggling or who have significant challenges in their business or personal life at the moment.
World renowned coach and motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, says the reason why gratitude is so powerful is because it is "the antidote to anger and fear." I love this and it is so true. It is nearly impossible to be angry or fearful and grateful at the same time. This is why hunting for the good is especially important this year. It builds our resilience and can act as a buffer to that stress or anxiety we might be feeling.
The good news is, research has shown that simple and easy-to-implement gratitude practice can have a huge impact on fighting the negativity bias and improve our overall well-being. Here is one of the skills you can try for yourself today.
How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
Make it a daily practice to write down three good things that happened during your day. You don’t have to overthink it. It can be anything big or small and often the good things are just the simple pleasures of our days--our child's laugh, a text from a friend, a funny meme, a good meal, time spent with our spouse.
Write down the reasons why you believe these good things happened, or what those good things mean to you, or why you are grateful for them. Taking a few extra moments to be specific on why you are appreciative for the things you wrote down helps you relive, savor, and solidify those good things to memory and therefore increase our positive emotions and overall gratefulness.
Two easy steps. It really is that simple! One study that looked at this simple intervention split people into two randomized groups and measured their overall happiness. Then, one of the groups was told to write down three good things a day and their thoughts about why those good things happened to them. The other group was told to write down an early childhood memory everyday. After doing the writing exercises for one week, the researchers then followed up with both groups and had them take a happiness index and a measure of depression symptoms again. They found that the people in the group who were told to write down three good things had a significant increase in their happiness and a decrease in depression symptoms. The researcher continued to follow up with those people and these positive changes lasted six months after the intervention was completed! The people in the group who were told to record childhood memories saw no significant difference in their happiness index or depression scale. Think about that for a second. There was a significant difference in happiness that lasted for six months from only keeping a gratitude journal for just one week! Pretty good bang for your buck!
It also turns out that you don’t have to keep a gratitude journal every day to increase well-being. Other studies have actually shown that even doing it just once a week can have a positive impact. However, I recommend starting out by doing it every day to help make it a habit and increase the positive emotions on a daily basis.
Even though Thanksgiving may look a little different than in the past and some might be experiencing significant hardships this year, there are always things that we can be grateful for. Incorporating a daily gratitude practice has really helped me especially during difficult times and I encourage you to try it out to see the positive benefits it can have on your life.
In the spirit of focusing on gratitude, my next article will be all about the amazing benefits that practicing gratitude can have on your marriage and relationships, so make sure you subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss it! As always, thanks for reading and I would love to hear what you are most grateful for in the comments below!