You may remember back when you were in elementary school, and Thanksgiving was coming up. Inevitably, you would be given the classic pre-Thanksgiving assignment to make a list of things you were thankful for. That list would typically include family, friends, pets, and maybe even your toys. This “What I Am Thankful For” activity is an excellent introduction for children to learn how to appreciate the people and things in their lives, but it’s only done once a year and usually drops off after elementary school.
Now that you’re all grown up, why not kick it up a notch and try cultivating an attitude of gratitude daily? Feeling grateful for even the tiniest little thing (hello, pumpkin latte!) can truly change your life for the better when done regularly.
How can practicing gratitude change your life? Below are some of the top benefits of appreciating what you have:
1. Gratitude leads to higher self-esteem.
Feeling grateful for what you have helps keep you away from the compare-and-despair mindset that can trigger feelings of inadequacy. Studies show that people who practice gratitude also experience higher self-esteem. If you struggle with feeling like you aren’t good enough, successful enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough, let go of trying to keep up with the Joneses. Instead, focus on cultivating an attitude of gratitude for all the blessings in your own life, big and small.
2. Gratitude increases your productivity.
When you compare yourself to others or worry about what you don’t have, you waste your precious time on thoughts that don’t serve you well. These negative thoughts can consume your mind and prevent you from taking the actions necessary to achieve your goals. Making a deliberate effort to focus on what you appreciate in your life can free up space in your mind for nourishing thoughts that inspire and energize you. Regularly practicing gratitude improves productivity by making it easier to release your mind of unnecessary concerns so you can give your time and attention to your priorities.
3. Gratitude strengthens your relationships.
When someone expresses appreciation for the help you’ve provided or even just for being there for them during difficult times, it makes you feel good. On the other hand, when your efforts go unnoticed, it can feel pretty crummy. Eventually, you may start to feel taken advantage of and become bitter or resentful toward the other person. Lack of appreciation can break down relationships, whereas expressing gratitude for the responsiveness of your partner, family member, friend, or coworker strengthens your bond and nourishes that relationship. Don’t assume the other person already knows you appreciate them — make it a habit to say thank you, even for the little things.
4. Gratitude helps you sleep better.
If you have ever had difficulty falling or staying asleep, you may be familiar with the endless string of nagging thoughts and worries that make it difficult to wind down for a restful night’s sleep. Negative thinking is the default for many people, so the last thoughts going through your head before you nod off may be anxious, angry, or otherwise unpleasant. As you can imagine, this doesn’t set you up for sweet dreams.
Keeping a gratitude journal can improve the quality of your sleep by shifting your automatic negative thoughts to more positive thoughts. I tried writing in a journal each evening before bed, listing all the things I could think of to appreciate each day, and my Fitbit Sleep Score actually improved. I also listened to these gratitude affirmations as I slept — this woman has the most soothing voice … seriously, she will lull you right to sleep. Zzzzzzzz
Although it may feel like swimming against the tide, take a few minutes before lying down to write down things you are grateful for, positive interactions you had, or anything that made you smile that day. While you can simply think about these things rather than writing them, there is usually more power in the written word. Over time, you can train your brain to lean more toward positive thoughts, so it becomes easier and more natural.
5. Gratitude is good for your mental health.
Without gratitude, it’s easy to slip into a victim mindset, which can be detrimental to your mental health. You may ruminate over all the wrongdoings in your life, and when you feel like a victim, that loss of personal control over your life can manifest as anxiety and depression. And when you sink into this pit of fear or despair, the last thing on your mind may be what you are thankful for. You may even feel like there’s nothing to express gratitude for at that time. But this is when it is more crucial than ever to summon up an attitude of gratitude. According to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions.” This applies to anxiety, depression, envy, resentment, or any other emotions that can chip away at mental wellness.
How to Practice Gratitude When You’re in a Bad Mood
So how can you cultivate gratitude when it seems like everything sucks? I learned from Abraham Hicks, one of my favorite Law of Attraction speakers, that you can’t force yourself to jump right into a high vibrating emotion such as joy when you’re experiencing a low vibrating emotion like fear, anger, or depression. The key is to take baby steps, which means finding a way to feel just a tiny bit better.
For example, let’s just say you’re in one of those moods where you’re hating on everybody (except your pets, of course). Come on; we’ve all been there! Happiness seems eons away, and all you want to do is gripe.
Instead of trying to force joy, find something small to appreciate. It could be having a cup of coffee or tea, cuddling with your fur baby, taking a nap on the couch with a cozy blanket and pillow, or watching a bird out your window. There are plenty of tiny little moments in your life to appreciate. Often, we’re too busy to notice them. But if you take the time to look around, you’ll surely find some inspiration for gratitude.
Once you make a habit of finding things in your life to appreciate, it will kick off momentum for more good things to come to you. Remember that, like many practices, gratitude is a journey rather than a destination, so you will need to practice regularly to continue enjoying all the wonderful benefits it brings.
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