Gratitude is simply the feeling of being thankful. Recently, practicing gratitude has become popular in the mainstream. That’s because:
- It’s simple to practice: you just think of objects, situations or people in your life that you are thankful for.
- It has many powerful benefits (see below)
What are the benefits?
Practicing gratitude has a simple but perhaps not so obvious benefit: when you genuinely feel thankful you cannot also experience negative emotions.
To illustrate this, as a quick experiment, think of one person in your life that has always supported you. This could be a family member or a friend. What feelings come up?
The other major benefit to gratitude is that it provides perspective and helps to ground you in reality. Nearly every human being suffers from absorption; being absorbed in thoughts and being absorbed in tasks.
Suppose you have spent the day playing poker for hours. It’s almost certain you became absorbed in paying attention and making decisions. And so you likely missed the simple things in your day that helped to make it possible. Essentially, practicing gratitude helps you to appreciate life more through self-creation of positive happy feelings.
The third main benefit is that helps you to connect better with other people and appreciate other human beings. In short, it generates a genuinely kind nature. As another quick experiment, bring your attention to the clothes that you are wearing. And think of the people that helped make them. How does this make you feel? Where do you sensations appear in the body? Do any feelings come up at all?
Why practice gratitude?
Robert Emmons, PhD, has conducted a number of scientific studies on practicing gratitude.
In one such study, three groups were assigned to write a journal once a week for 10 weeks. One group 5 things they were grateful for, another 5 things that displeased them and another 5 neutral events. The researchers used a well-being scale which showed the group that noted 5 things they were grateful for were 25% happier.
How to practice gratitude?
In a typical gratitude practice you think of 3-5 things that draw up real genuine positive feelings. That’s the key part: to generate real feelings. If gratitude practice becomes a routine then the benefits from doing it vanish.
When it comes to thinking of the gratitude items its best not to overthink it and simply pick what comes to your attention first. You can consider the objects around you or what happened in your day today or whatever you want really. Practicing gratitude is an opportunity to be creative!
When it comes to listing the items you can use your fingers to ensure you reach the number you like. And you can even write it them down on say your phone or even in a gratitude journal. What is important to note is not to simply just rush your way through it. To treat gratitude practice as simply something on your to-do-list is missing the point of practicing altogether. When you genuinely practice gratitude you’ll know it really is not a substantial time commitment to your day.
When to practice it?
There is no real perfect time to practice. In fact, I want to tell you that gratitude should be practiced both proactively (i.e. regularly) and also reactively when you notice negative emotions arise.
Practicing proactively, is easiest in the morning. That’s because you can carry it out before you become absorbed in your day-to-day activities. It also allows you start the day with a positive perspective.
Another good time to regularly practice is before you sleep. As you can think about the positive things that happened in your day and allow yourself to slip off into a positive peaceful sleep. Reactively practicing gratitude is something that requires a bit of skill. Firstly it requires recognition (or what is more commonly known as mindfulness) to be able to identify when negative emotions have taken place.
Practicing gratitude is both incredibly simple and incredibly beneficial. Why not start practicing today?