5 Ways to Practice Gratitude and Be Happier

5 Ways to Practice Gratitude and Be Happier

Find out how you can get all the feel-good benefits of practicing gratitude.

By: Maressa Brown

From sniffing citrus oils to taking a walk outside, there are plenty of tips you can try to boost your mood in a pinch. But one of the most powerful habits, research-proven to promote happiness, is an ongoing practice: Gratitude. While it may bring to mind visions of a festive Thanksgiving dinner, “being thankful” year-round can keep your mood elevated. In fact, research done by psychology expert and University of California, Davis professor Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., published in his book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier , found that people who expressed gratitude felt 25 percent happier, were more optimistic about the future, and felt better about their lives. Nice!

Here, five ways to get the amazing benefits of being thankful.

1. Keep a gratitude journal. One of the most widely recommended ways to practice gratitude is by setting aside time daily to recall ordinary moments, people, or things you are thankful for. In his research, Emmons had subjects write down what they were most grateful for. Responses included anything from “the generosity of my friends” and “the chance to be alive” to “the Rolling Stones.” The general idea of keeping a gratitude journal is that you don’t have to write even full sentences. What you should do, however, is follow Emmons’ advice for participants of his studies: “Be aware of your feelings and how you ‘relish’ and ‘savor’ this gift in your imagination. Take the time to be especially aware of the depth of your gratitude. In other words, we tell them not to hurry through this exercise as if it were just another item on your to-do list. This way, gratitude journaling is really different from merely listing a bunch of pleasant things in one’s life.”

2. Make a gratitude vow. Emmons points out in Thanks! that making an oath -- or a public pronouncement of an intention to perform an action -- actually increases the likelihood that the action will be executed. For that reason, writing your own gratitude vow such as “I vow to count my blessings each day” and posting it somewhere you’ll see it every day (or perhaps posting it to social media, which may make you feel more accountable for it) can help you stick to your guns.


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3. Write a letter of gratitude. Reaching out to a teacher, employee, old friend, or mentor in your life who has shaped it for the better is another way to show gratitude, enjoying the benefits for yourself but also passing them along. You can do this by writing a handwritten thank you note, telling these people just what a difference they’ve made for you. When psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. had study participants write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores -- and benefits lasted for a month!

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4. Get your “om” on. Being mindful throughout your day and tuning your senses into the things around you that you’re grateful for is one thing, but you can also make leaps and bounds by devoting a special time slot to mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. You can focus on a word or phrase -- like “peace” or “joy” -- or you can think about what you’re grateful for (i.e., your children, colorful autumn leaves, etc.).

5. Change your inner monologue. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We are what we think about all day long.” For that reason, Emmons recommends replacing any negative thoughts (like “What a dreary day!”) with positive, grateful ones that serve you better (like “I’m truly blessed to have such sweet kids!”). He writes, “Gratitude self-talk that draws our attention to the positive contributions that others have made to our lives will simultaneously favorably impact our emotional wellbeing while strengthening social bonds.”

Which way of expressing gratitude would you like to try?

Maressa Brown is a senior staff writer for The Stir. She loves writing about and reading up on health/fitness, relationships, and pop culture -- preferably on a beach somewhere.

Image ©iStock.com/veronicagomepola

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