Gratitude has been called the mother of all virtues. Practicing and experiencing gratitude encourages the development of other virtues like patience, humility, and wisdom.
The practice of gratitude has been shown to increase energy and alertness, help build resilience, and strengthen our ability to cope with stress. Gratitude helps us develop more secure relationships, increases our self-worth, our confidence, and our sense of purpose. Gratitude makes it more likely that we’ll be successful in reaching our goals and it makes us be more generous and helpful to others.
Grateful people also experience better physical health. Research shows that they have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, decreased inflammation in their bodies, less aches and pains, and they can sleep better.
There are some incredible benefits to practicing gratitude.
What is gratitude?
There are two parts required for gratitude. Gratitude involves recognizing that you have received something positive. This could be a tangible gift, an experience, a situation, essentially anything that you perceive as positive or good. When we are grateful for something there is something about it that makes it really valuable to us.
The second piece that is involved with gratitude is the recognition that this gift or outcome has an external source. You received or experienced something good and you’re able to identify the source of that goodness outside of yourself. It is also not something that is necessarily earned or deserved. We are grateful for things that are true gifts to us.
Practicing gratitude helps to remind us that there is good in the world. It doesn’t mean that there are never challenges or bad situations in life, it doesn’t ignore or deny the hard, it simply helps us to acknowledge that even in the midst of the worst hard, there is also some amount of goodness.
And that goodness doesn’t stem simply from our own selves. It’s great to acknowledge the goodness in ourselves and to appreciate the things that we are able to do, the work and the goals we accomplish, but gratitude isn’t about pride, gratitude turns our focus outward to remind us that we are humbly dependent on others. The goodness we experience in life isn’t only attributable to ourselves.
Gratitude teaches us that other people and God, provide us with gifts and goodness that enrich and enhance our lives.
It teaches us to recognize that we are not self-sufficient. We need other people.
Gratitude Practices to Try
There are several gratitude practices we can implement to help us practice and experience more gratitude in our lives. Gratitude must become a practice, something we work at each and every day. Some days will be easier than others, but over time, our brain will begin to notice the good in the midst of the hard.
The simplest gratitude practice is a gratitude journal. At the end of the day or the beginning of the next day, write down at least three things that you are grateful for. These don’t have to be huge things, be grateful for the small gifts too. The main rule is that you can’t write the same things every day. Find something new to be grateful for each and every day.
Identify the thing you are grateful for, and the person or source of that gift, and then take a few moments to just sit and feel the gratitude and other emotions that come from being thankful for that gift.
The longer you do this, the more your brain will start to notice the good, even when you’re not sitting down to intentionally think about things you’re grateful for. You will have started building the pathways in your brain to start always looking for gifts. The more you look, the easier it will be to notice.
Another gratitude practice that can be really helpful is a practice called grateful reappraisal. This is when you consider an unpleasant experience or memory. Think about a difficult circumstance that you have gone through and consider with the benefit of hindsight what positive came out of that situation. Or how did going through that experience helped to prepare you for the future or teach you something that helped you grow in a meaningful way.
Reframing and processing our challenging times can help us to rewrite our stories. In episode two of the Working Mom’s Balance Podcast, I talked about one of the pillars that support a meaningful life is the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. We can choose the perspective we take when telling our stories.
Grateful reappraisal practices help us to rewrite our stories to help us recognize the good, the ways we’ve grown, the strength we’ve developed, and how the hard times have led us to the good things we have.
Gratitude Visit or Gratitude Letter
A third gratitude practice that I’d recommend is also the one that you’ll probably feel the most uncomfortable with. This practice is known as the gratitude visit or gratitude letter. Three times during my Master’s degree program we were assigned to write a gratitude letter and share it in an in-person visit. Each time I felt nervous and uncomfortable getting started, but the experience was incredibly valuable and these came to be my favorite assignments.
A gratitude visit is one of the most effective ways to deepen gratitude and it has been found to be even more effective than gratitude lists and other practices. It can help increase happiness and decrease depression for up to 3 months after you do it.
Write the letter
For this practice, think of someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful. You want to think of a situation where you never expressed your gratitude in a meaningful way. Ideally, you want to pick someone that is still alive that you can meet with. It can be very meaningful to write a gratitude letter to someone who has passed away, but the exercise is even more enhanced by the visit experience, so at least for your first attempt, try to pick someone still alive and available to you.
Write a letter to that person expressing your gratitude. Be specific about what the person did, why you are grateful, and how their actions affected your life. The letter doesn’t need to be long, about 300 words are usually recommended.
Share the Letter in an In Person Visit
Then, once you’ve written your letter, plan a visit. Obviously, in our current reality, you’ll likely need to schedule a Facetime call or Zoom meeting for most people but get as in person with your person as you can. And then read your letter to the person. After you read your letter, talk and reflect to discuss any feelings and reactions with each other. Make sure the other person gets to keep a copy of your letter. It will likely be something that they treasure.
This practice has been found to be incredibly meaningful for both the giver and the receiver. There are so many benefits that come from fully expressing our gratitude to the important people in our lives in a tangible way. I highly encourage you to give this practice a try. As I said, you’ll probably feel uncomfortable at first, but press through the discomfort because it really is such a neat experience.
Today’s Action Step
Gratitude is an incredibly powerful practice that has been shown in numerous research studies to increase our well-being and life satisfaction. If you want to be happier, train yourself to become more grateful. It takes work and intentionality to teach your mind to notice and appreciate the good around you, but the work is worth it. Over the coming months take some time to try each of the practices outlined above. Let me know what your experience is like with these ideas in the comments.
Resources for Further Study
Podcast Episode: The Practice of Gratitude