Practicing gratitude delivers a number of benefits for your physical and mental health, wellbeing and interpersonal relationships. When you’re feeling stuck, depressed, anxious or just down about the way that your life is going, there is always something to be thankful for.
However, it’s not always easy to look on the bright side. The fact that many religions have rituals for expressing gratitude shows that it’s necessary to practice being thankful if you want to get better at it.
Focusing on your appreciation for what’s good in your life can turn things around. However, that’s easier said than done, especially if you’re experiencing a hardship.
In this article, we discuss the evidence that shows how gratitude can improve your life. We also give you a list of things to be thankful for and explain how to incorporate a gratitude practice into your daily routine.
The Science Behind Gratitude
Psychologist Robert Emmons has done extensive research on gratitude. In his book, “The Psychology of Gratitude,” he describes gratitude as an emotion. He says that it has been largely neglected when most psychologists talk about feelings, though.
Most people can easily access this emotion. Just imagine the way that you feel when someone does something nice for you. You typically exude thankfulness.
According to Emmons, gratitude has two parts:
- Affirming the good things in your life
- Determining the source of that goodness
Emmons says that experiencing this emotion regularly can enhance your wellbeing in several ways, including:
- Strengthening your immune system
- Reducing aches and pains
- Helping you sleep better
- Boosting your energy and alertness
- Providing you with more joy and pleasure
- Making you more optimistic and happier
- Increasing your confidence in social situations
- Helping you feel less lonely and isolated
Emmons is not the only researcher that has studied gratitude. Numerous other studies support the benefits listed above.
The Self-Serving Bias
Gratitude may also be the antidote to the self-serving bias. The self-serving bias is a psychological phenomenon that says that people are more likely to attribute positive events to their own talents, aptitudes or character traits and blame negative events on external occurrences.
For example, if you get an A on a test, you might congratulate yourself for studying so hard. If you fail, you might fault the teacher for making the test too difficult.
People who struggle with depression often flip this bias. They may believe that bad things happen to them because of their flawed character. When good things happen, they may attribute those events to good luck or someone else’s skill or intelligence.
The self-serving bias is important for helping you maintain a positive self-image. But exaggerating the positive outcomes in relation to yourself can be just as harmful as blaming yourself for everything terrible that happens to you.
Lowering the bias through a gratitude practice may bring it into balance. One of the keys to managing this is to practice gratitude in two ways:
- Recognize the external sources that produced positive effects
- Look at the internal reasons for your success
When you recognize that good things can happen for multiple reasons, you let go of the responsibility to control your world. When you incorporate gratitude into your life, you may realize that you get far more than what you think you deserve.
This prevents you from taking on an entitled mentality and keeps you accountable for your actions. At the same time, it gives you the freedom to accept that some events may just be random and you can’t regulate what other people do. In other words, it gives you a broader perspective on your place in the world.
Gratitude is a Strategy for Success
Some of the most successful people in the world, including Oprah, Arianna Huffington and Tony Robbins, say that gratitude has helped them achieve success. Huffington starts and ends her day naming three things that she’s thankful for. She says that sharing her lists with friends has changed the quality of her days.
Tony Robbins begins his mornings with a 10-minute routine that incorporates thankfulness. Like Huffington, he focuses on the small things. You don’t have to wait for grand events to happen to feel grateful.
Oprah says that gratitude can help you make the right decisions in your life. She has kept a gratitude journal for ten years. In it, she writes five things that she’s thankful for every day.
7 Things to Be Thankful For
It’s easy to give thanks for major successes, such as buying a new car, getting married or graduating from college. But major milestones like those are few and far between. What are you doing on a regular basis to show your appreciation?
We have compiled a list of things that you shouldn’t take for granted.
1. Your Health
If you have a chronic illness, as 40 percent of Americans do, aches and pains or just the flu, it may be difficult for you to be thankful for your health. It’s easy to feel discouraged and want your health to improve.
Even if you aren’t suffering from an illness, you may always wish that you could lose five more pounds or get rid of your allergies. We tend to take our health for granted until it gets worse. We don’t even notice how good we have it until it disrupts our lives. Then, we wish that it would improve.
Sending out thanks for your body in whatever state it’s in. When you fully appreciate what you are able to do because of your physical gifts, you can explore your full capacity.
Some ways to give gratitude for your health include:
- Acknowledging the things that you can do with your level of physical fitness—whether that’s just the independence to make your own food or the ability to run a marathon
- Noticing when your body feels good and pinpointing where that positive feeling resides
- Honoring yourself by fueling your body with nutritious foods
- Getting a massage to enhance your mobility or reduce pain
Even if you only have a few dollars in the bank or a couple of coins in your wallet, you may have more than many people do. However, finances are relative. The dollar amount that makes somebody feel abundant can cause you to stress out that you can’t pay the bills.
But being grateful for the economic privilege that you have may be the key to attracting more money. Gratitude can influence your financial situation in many ways.
Gratitude Can Reduce Your Temptation to Succumb to Instant Gratification
Humans are hardwired to place a higher value on the things that they can have now even if waiting means that they’ll get a bigger reward in the future. When it comes to money, you might be more likely to accept $20 now than wait to receive $50 next week. This mentality can drain your finances.
In one study, participants could choose to receive $54 immediately or get $80 in 30 days. However, before they made the decision, the volunteers were divided into groups.
Each group was asked to write about a past event that made them feel grateful, happy or neutral. Those who wrote about an experience that elicited gratitude were more likely to wait to receive the larger sum.
The researchers theorized that gratitude is linked to fulfillment. It also generates a feeling that you might need to repay the good deed, which may encourage you to be more patient when receiving it.
Feelings of Abundance May Attract Wealth
When you’re feeling broke, what kinds of emotions do you experience? You might feel worried, anxious or stressed out.
What kind of things do you say to yourself? You might have thoughts such as:
- I can never make enough money.
- Other people are luckier than me.
- Money seems to go out as quickly as it comes in.
- Money is evil.
- I don’t deserve to be rich.
According to the Law of Attraction, the vibrational frequency of your thoughts attracts material goods that are on the same wavelength. Therefore, concentrating on feeling poor can keep you poor. Focusing on where you feel abundant can magnetize money to you.
Many people believe that the abundance that you desire already exists in the universe. If you’re not getting it, you may be blocking it with limiting beliefs and thought patterns that are at a low vibration.
Think about your relationship with money. If you’ve ever told yourself one of the phrases that we’ve listed above, then you’re not sending a clear signal to the universe that you’re ready to receive financial abundance. You may really want to get out of debt, but perhaps a roller-coaster history with finances or a belief that you have to work more than you’d like to is preventing you from earning more.
One of the easiest ways to raise your vibration surrounding money is to be grateful for it.
Here are some steps for practicing money gratitude:
- Make a list of all of how you’re already financially abundant.
- Envision a modest amount of money that you’d like to receive in the near future.
- Write down that sum.
- When you look at it, allow yourself to imagine holding it your hand. Let yourself get excited about what you’ll do with the money.
- Express gratitude for the amount of money that you’ve written down as though you already have it.
- Do this gratitude practice a few times a day.
- When you’re not working with this practice, let your thoughts about money go. Trust that the abundance that you need and desire will come to you.
3. Your Friends
Gratitude is an important emotion in social relationships. Showing appreciation for others can help you make friends, according to research. When you meet a new acquaintance, simply thanking them for supporting you can make them more likely to want to become or stay friends with you.
Expressing gratitude can make you less hostile and more empathetic towards others. These are prosocial behaviors that can help you develop a close social network.
The quantity of friendships in your life isn’t necessarily as important as the quality of those relationships. Having people around who will support you during tough times and celebrate your wins with you can help you:
- Improve your immunity
- Reduce stress
- Enhance your self-confidence
- Increase your happiness
- Improve your overall health
Every day, think about the people in your life that you care about. Consider sending a message, card or letter to one person a week to let them know that you’re thankful for them.
4. Leisure Time
Have you ever fallen into the trap of doing so much that you feel like you don’t have time to relax? In her book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time,” Brigid Schulte says that people often feel burdened by their obligations. They feel like they don’t have enough leisure time even when they do.
One reason for this is the social mentality surrounding free time. Americans are obsessed with achievement.
Schulte compared American mothers to Danish mothers as she conducted her research for the book. She found that although more Danish mothers are in the workforce, they tend to have more leisure time than American mothers.
In Denmark, people tend to work shorter hours and place a high value on leisure time. In contrast, Americans may work well past closing hours just to show that they’re putting in an effort.
If you feel like life is so busy that you don’t have a moment to yourself, your problem may not be one of time. It may be an issue of appreciation.
Everyone has 10 minutes a day to do nothing, focus on themselves or relax. Make it a point to work that into your life even if it means that you have to go to bed later or wake up earlier. When you do, take one minute to feel the gratitude for that freedom.
As you continue to do this, you may realize that you have a lot more time in your schedule than you thought. On your busiest days, you’ll notice that you appreciate your moments of free time even more than you did when you completely ignored them.
5. Your Mistakes
It seems counterintuitive to be thankful for the things that you did wrong. Your mistakes may have brought you worry, grief and anxiety. But there is a lesson in every failure.
Every choice that you have made has helped you become the person that you are now. Even if you haven’t achieved all of your goals, you should take a moment to appreciate what you have accomplished.
You’re human, and you’re never going to do everything perfectly. Moreover, your mistakes may have prevented you from going down a path that wasn’t right for you.
Some say that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Errors can happen no matter how careful you are, how much you plan or what choices you make. You can see them as roadblocks, or you can look at them as teaching tools.
- They teach you what you might want to avoid doing next time you’re in a similar situation.
- They confirm your willingness to take risks, which is essential to your success.
- Your focus will improve when you try again.
- You’ll have a better definition of what it means to succeed.
- You’ll learn how to laugh at yourself instead of wallowing in seriousness.
6. Knowing How to Read
If you’re reading this right now, take a moment to express some gratitude. More than 700 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, can’t read. Your literacy gives you access to opportunities that you may not have otherwise.
Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn how to read you will be forever free.”
Some things that are inaccessible to you if you can’t read include:
- Basic signs
- Medication labels
- Job applications
- Legal documents
If you don’t know how to read, your perspective is limited. Many of the social connections that we make are linked to the information that we pick up by reading books or news articles. Illiteracy is also linked to poor health and poverty.
Therefore, if you can read, you have a world of knowledge at your fingertips. You have more opportunities than many other people in this world. For that, you can be grateful.
The Earth supports our existence. It’s exquisitely beautiful and gives selflessly. Yet we often take advantage of its resources.
Nature doesn’t just provide us with air to breathe and water to drink; it may help regulate our mental health. From ancient healers to modern scientists, experts believe that nature has healing powers.
Spending time in nature can help you feel more positive at the end of the day. Being in awe of a sunset or a beautiful flower can give you the sense that you are surrounded by something greater than yourself. This mentality can make your concerns feel less significant.
How to Establish a Gratitude Practice
Gratitude is a skill that many people have to practice. It doesn’t always come naturally because we are often so focused on the negative that we forget to appreciate the positive. Therefore, you might need to work on your ability to give thanks before it starts to come automatically.
Below, we describe some effective ways to strengthen your gratitude muscle.
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal
If negative self-talk, insecurities and doubts plague you, you might want to keep a gratitude journal. Setting aside some time every day gives you a chance to reflect on what went well. If you’re not used to doing that, you may be surprised by how effectively this can shift your mindset.
You can just focus on feeling gratitude, but writing it down solidifies it. Plus, it gives you something to look back on when you’re feeling down. Recording the things that your thankful for can help you feel supported and abundant even during tough times.
2. Use the Phrase, “Up Until Now…”
It’s easy to fall into the mentality of believing that negative situations have always been and will always be bad. For example, you might say things to yourself such as:
- I’m always late for things
- I always get picked last
- I always end up paying for my mistakes
- I always bite off more than I can chew
- I always work harder than I get compensated for
If you change your verbiage, you can release some of the negativity that prevents you from feeling thankful. For example, you might say, “Up until now, I’ve worked hard but haven’t gotten compensated for it.”
Rephrasing the statement will allow you to do what’s necessary to change that reality. When you compare the potential for a positive future with the negative past, you might feel grateful.
3. Use Affirmations of Gratitude
Saying daily affirmations can manifest a life of optimism and thankfulness. Many people use positive statements to achieve the things that they want in life.
For example, if you want more money, you might say, “I am financially abundant.” If you want a promotion, you might repeat to yourself, “I am the boss.”
But what happens when you get the things that you desire? You can adapt your affirmations to express gratitude.
You can work any of the things to be thankful for from the list above into a gratitude affirmation. Place affirmations around your home so that you remind yourself to repeat them. You might put them on your mirror, car steering wheel or smartphone wallpaper.
Some examples of gratitude affirmations include:
- I am thankful to the Universe/God/Spirit for everything in my life.
- I am thankful for every person who has touched my life.
- I am thankful for the opportunities that life has granted me.
- I am thankful for the abundance that I consistently receive.
- I am thankful for the earth for providing resources for me.
- I am thankful for the air I breathe.
4. Get in Touch With Your Senses
If you don’t stop to smell the roses, you may find it hard to cultivate gratitude. Make a habit of slowing down and paying attention to your sensations. Focus on all five physical sensations, including:
You can do this quickly when you’re feeling stressed. Take a moment to get in touch with your breathing. Notice how the air feels as it enters and exits your body. What other sensations do you feel on your skin?
Bring your awareness to your sense of taste. If you’re eating or drinking something, that will be easy. If you’re not, try to notice what the inside of your mouth tastes like.
Move to your sense of smell. Take a deep inhale. What aromas are you aware of?
Now, direct your attention to your gaze. What do you see immediately in front of you? What’s far away? What colors or shapes do you observe?
Finally, become aware of any sounds that are in your environment. After you discern those that are the most obvious, see if you can redirect your attention to subtle or distant noises.
In doing this practice, you’ll learn to appreciate life from an objective perspective. When you get bogged down by your thoughts, you can gain clarity by focusing on your body. When you do this with a lens of thankfulness, you may discover a new appreciation for being alive.
5. Watch Your Words
Words capture your thoughts, feelings and expressions. They can be extremely powerful. Words can even carry specific frequencies that attract similar vibrations.
Try it now. Say out loud, with a dull, monotonous voice, “This is awful.” Now, lighten your voice and say, “Thank you.” Which one felt better?
Listen to yourself as you go about your day. Do you repeat a lot of negative phrases, or do you compliment people and say, “Thank you” as much as possible?
Practice lifting your vibration with the words that you say. Practice this by singing a song of “Thank you’s.” You may feel silly at first, but you might continue doing it when you notice how good it makes you feel.
You can also try using the Metta meditation. Also referred to as the loving-kindness meditation, this is a mantra in several parts. It involves using phrases that make you feel warm-hearted and directing wishes of well-being and happiness to ourselves and others.
In closing, we’d like to note that being grateful doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the significance of negative events. However, noticing the good things in your life can help you focus on getting out of the hole instead of staying in it.
Nurture gratitude within yourself to feel alive, abundant and positive. There is one thing to be thankful for that we have not yet mentioned: you. It’s not selfish to be grateful for yourself and all of the beauty that you bring into the world. Celebrate yourself every day.