This blog post was written by Erin Malan, Meditation Guru at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.
“Gratitude is the shortest path to happiness” - Anonymous
I don’t have a perfect dad, but I have a good one. And one of his main goals in life was to teach his five kids to work hard. His efforts were often met with complaints. I remember saying things like: “It’s not fair that I have to work when my friends are hanging out and having fun. I should have a choice in what I do with my time.” My dad’s response was something along the lines of: “You do have a choice—you can do the work happily and with gratitude, or you can do the work unhappy.”
My teenage self did not appreciate his response, but as I age and gain more life experience, I see how profound it is. We can choose to go through the work of life grateful or we can choose to go through the work of life sad and grumpy. In those teenage years, I could choose to focus on what social event I was missing out on, or I could choose to focus on the positives instead: that I had a healthy body capable of performing physical labor, that I was learning skills, and that I was earning money.
Benefits of Gratitude
Science tells us that gratitude makes life better! Numerous studies show that gratitude practices help people live healthier lives. Benefits include:
- Greater optimism and happiness
- More positive emotions
- Increased experiences of joy and pleasure
- More feelings of alertness
- Lower blood pressure
- Healthier heart
- Less aches and pains
- Greater vitality
- Healthier eating habits
- Better sleep quality
- Stronger immune system
- Reduces the negative impacts of stress
- Fewer feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Greater compassion and forgiveness
- Increased sociality and connection
Why Gratitude Works
One of the leading gratitude researchers in the world, Robert Emons, has a wonderful take on why gratitude is so powerful. There are two key components: the first is an affirmation of goodness. When our brains scan for what we are grateful for, we focus on the good in life. We don’t need to ignore the bad and hard to do this, but it is a mindset change instead of affirming the negative, we choose to affirm the positive.
The second component is that gratitude is a humbling and communal experience. When we are thankful, we acknowledge sources—people and things—outside of ourselves.
I love this quote by Albert Einstein that sums up these two components beautifully: “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
How to Practice Gratitude
It can be helpful to think of gratitude as a muscle that needs exercise to grow strong. Most of us don’t wake up each morning full of thankfulness and positivity, but as we cultivate and practice gratitude a little bit each day, our mindset will change so that focusing on the good becomes easier.
Journaling is a wonderful way to practice gratitude! There are many ways to do it, and figuring out what works for you to build and maintain a journaling habit is key.
- Keep it simple to start. It’s great if a beautiful, hardcover journal is your thing, but just the notes app on your phone works too. Begin by recording one or two things you are grateful for. The number and details may increase over time but keep it simple in the beginning as you build the habit.
- Find a time of day that works for you. Some ideas include: before you get out of bed each morning, while you drink your first cup of coffee, or before you turn on Netflix in the evening. Linking journaling to a reward (like caffeine or a show) can be effective.
- If you find it difficult to come up with things you’re grateful for, imagine life without the people and things that matter to you before you start writing. You can also use prompts like these:
I’m grateful for three things I hear…
I’m grateful for three things I see…
I’m grateful for three things I taste…
I’m grateful for these three friends…
I’m grateful for this teacher…
I’m grateful for this person I work with…
I’m grateful for this opportunity I had today…
I’m grateful for these three things in my home…
- Eventually, coming up with things you are grateful for will get easier and you may find yourself spontaneously thinking, “I’m going to record this in my gratitude journal tonight.”
2.Gratitude Jar or Group Text
The fun thing about a gratitude jar is that it can be a communal practice. You can get your coworkers, roommates, or family involved.
- Find something like a mason jar to designate as your “gratitude jar”.
- Place small strips of paper and a pencil next to it.
- Challenge yourself (and maybe others) to write something you are thankful for a couple times each day on the strips of paper and place them in the jar.
- Having the visual of the jar helps encourage you to look for the good in life and reminds you of how many blessings you have as it fills up. Plus, when you are in need of a quick pick-me-up, you can take a few notes out of the jar to remember specifically what you are grateful for.
If sharing a jar at work or home isn’t possible and you still want a communal experience, consider starting a gratitude text thread. Invite friends or family to participate over text in a similar way. Everyday each person texts the group one or two things they are grateful for.
3. Gratitude Nature Walk
For some people, outdoor experiences naturally promote gratitude. Go on a walk, alone or with a friend, with the intention of appreciating the beauty in the natural world: trees, flowers, a sunset. You can use your phone to record what you see.
4. Send a Thank You
Create a habit of sending a thank you note, text, or email at a certain time each day or week. Scan your day or week for someone who has done something kind for you or a loved one, maybe your child’s teacher or coach. An unexpected and heartfelt thank you is a special gift.
5. Gratitude Meditation
- Find a comfortable place where you can sit for a few minutes, undisturbed.
- Focus on your breath while you settle in.
- Review the past 24 hours. Look for the positive. Maybe you recall a moment when someone— a friend, a family member, or a stranger —treated you with kindness. Or perhaps you experienced simple pleasures, like eating a good meal, watching an inspiring movie, or taking a walk in nature. Let yourself feel and remember these moments.
- If you have more time, expand your recollection to the past week, the past month, and perhaps even the past year.
- Bask in the good memories and let your gratitude grow.
You can practice gratitude meditation with me here:
Get Inspired to Practice Gratitude
If you want a strong dose of inspiration to practice gratitude, check out the first four minutes of the documentary “Happy”. Manoj Singh is a beautiful example of practicing gratitude every day.
These Ted Talks are wonderful too.
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