How to Practice Gratitude (and Enjoy the Physical & Mental Benefits!)
I always tell my mindfulness students that even though daily mindfulness meditation has changed my life, the best decision I’ve ever made was a 2016 New Year’s Resolution to keep a daily gratitude journal. No other habit has had such a far-reaching effect on how I think and how I interact with the world around me. I can now see the silver linings in even the most difficult challenges.
I invite you to use the recent Thanksgiving holiday as a springboard for your personal gratitude practice.
Gratitude is so important because as humans we have evolved with what’s called a negativity bias. We are prone to seeing what’s wrong and what’s dangerous in our environment. This tendency has kept us alive (avoiding the dangerous tribe, remembering where the poisonous berries grow), but it definitely doesn’t keep us happy.
Have you ever hosted a party or given a presentation to rave reviews, and then one person looks at you funny or gives you a neutral response? Afterwards, all you can think about is the one or two people who didn’t tell you it was the best thing ever.
As a psychotherapist student once explained, “Negative experiences stick to us like Velcro. The positive ones slide off like they’re coated in Teflon.”
A gratitude practice is a great way to combat our negativity bias and refocus our attention on positive experiences. Research shows that regular gratitude practice strengthens relationships, boosts immunity, improves sleep quality, increases overall wellbeing, and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. What’s more, grateful people exhibit more mental strength and resilience, and they take more positive action towards their goals.
Get started with your daily gratitude practice by experimenting with some of these easy techniques to transform your mindset:
Induce The Positivity Bias. The fastest way to uplift your state of mind is to ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” Just that simple question alters your mindset from searching for what’s wrong to seeking out what’s right.
Start With Gratitude. At your meetings and/or mealtime, invite all participants to start by sharing one thing that they are grateful for.
Feel Your Feet. We take so much for granted, including our amazing, healthy, supportive bodies. Take a moment to feel your feet on the ground and appreciate all the places they’ve carried you. You can bring this grateful awareness into the rest of your day, acknowledging your able hands as you type or eat, your healthy ears as you listen to music.
Write Thank You Notes. ’Tis the season to be grateful! Many gratitude studies show incredible benefits from writing just one gratitude note per week. When you receive gifts or experiences this season, consider writing physical thank you notes to connect deeply with the act of giving thanks.
Celebrate. Our brains are wired not only to look for what’s wrong, but also to continue planning for the future. This means we rarely stop and fully celebrate our accomplishments. To counteract these biases and reap the rewards of your hard work, write down 1-3 “celebrations” every day. For major accomplishments, consider having an office luncheon or going out with friends or family.
Journal Your Gratitude. Write down what you’re grateful for (the more specific your entry and the more emotion evoked, the better the results). Consider journaling daily using the following category prompts to keep you inspired:
- Relationship that has helped you grow
- Something that happened today or yesterday
- Physical object near you
- Friendship that gives you energy and support
- Opportunity you have today (or this week)
Create An Abundance Jar. Consider creating a physical representation of your gratitudes and celebrations by writing them down on brightly colored notes and placing them in a jar. The colorful jar will remind you of your practice and give you inspiration to reread if you’re feeling down.
Thank you for reading. Remember – have gratitude for every step of this journey towards more positivity, peace, and wellbeing.
“It is not joyful people who are grateful. It is grateful people who are joyful.”
–Brother David Steindl-Rast
Dorsey Standish is the Chief Mindfulness Officer at Mastermind Meditate in Dallas. Her mindfulness practice has helped her succeed at a Fortune 500 tech company, overcome mental illness, and ultimately connect more deeply with those around her. Dorsey’s teachings combine neuroscience research with her experiences in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and multiple weekend, 7-day and 10-day silent meditation retreats.