How to be more grateful
We all know the feeling of gratitude — a state of appreciation that makes us more present, open, and connected with the people around us. It is a heartwarming emotion that has been widely researched and lauded for its benefits, and yet it is a feeling that many of us don’t seem to experience as often as we would like.
We might look at gratitude as an intellectual idea, maybe even a cliché. But the truth is that when we feel happiness, we are calmer and less reactive … and gratitude is the most effective gateway into such a contented space. What’s more, everyone has the power to tap into this space, and the more familiar this feeling becomes, the more time we are likely to spend experiencing it.
It’s easy to get caught up in the tiny inconveniences of life: the frustrating morning commute, the annoying email from a colleague, the missing item from a takeout order. The mind seemingly has no issue reacting to everyday nuisances, but spends little time naturally appreciating the right things, big or small.
“Unless we take time to train in appreciation — to remember how to be more grateful — then it will never be more than an elusive, fleeting experience,” says former Buddhist monk and the co-founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe.
So if you’re ready to make being grateful a stronger part of your life, read on. Because each and every one of us is capable of discovering a renewed sense of appreciation for ourselves, and the world around us.
Whether through a gratitude meditation or by keeping a gratitude journal, learning how to be more grateful has myriad benefits. Researchers have done their due diligence on the topic. One of the world’s leading scientific experts on the subject, University of California, Davis professor Robert A. Emmons, said: “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life.” In their research, Emmons and his colleagues studied more than one thousand people between the ages of eight and 80. They found that those who are consistent about practicing gratitude reported significant benefits.
According to Emmons, “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.” If you’re not sold on the health benefits alone, Emmons adds, “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.”
Even though expressing gratitude is good for the body and mind, it’s not necessarily an easy task. But when we practice being more grateful, we discover that there is a humility to appreciation; an awareness that we are part of something bigger that we can’t take for granted.
The path to gratitude is not one-size-fits-all. Some people may choose to practice gratitude verbally, while others might prefer to explore it through meditation or jot down their feelings in a gratitude journal. Here are a few ways in which you can begin reaping the benefits of gratitude.
Embrace setbacks. Sometimes, to appreciate the good things in life, it helps to remember the bad ones. Take a few moments to think about the past, back to a time when your circumstances were less fortunate than the present. Think about how you’ve overcome those previous challenges and how you’ve grown as a person since then. Remembering the bad times and embracing those setbacks will help you feel grateful for how far you’ve come.
Make it a part of your routine. Just like brushing your teeth twice a day or enjoying a morning cup of tea, gratitude can become an everyday habit as long as you have a plan to get it there. Think about a part of your daily routine that brings you joy. It could be that morning cup of tea, your commute to work, your evening jog. Try to think about the things you are grateful for during the activity. Eventually, you’ll start organically associating that part of your day with the practice, making being grateful a more significant part of your life.
Focus on others. We’ve all fallen into the trap of getting too caught up in our everyday problems. By shifting some of our energy into cultivating empathy for others and focusing on their happiness, we give our minds permission to relax and enjoy the present moment. This practice can trigger a sense of gratitude and joy within ourselves.
Meditate for appreciation. From the frustrating little accidents life decides to throw our way to the harsh daily revelations of the news cycle, disruptions are everywhere. More often than not, we get caught up in a vicious cycle. A thought looms into our mind, it branches into more ideas (many of them triggering a sense of panic or anxiety), we manage to store it away for a moment, and then history repeats itself. Meditation is a tool that allows us to take a step back, relax the mind, and let our thoughts and emotions come and go without judgment. This tool can be used to gain deeper insights into our motivation for practicing gratitude. While meditating, ask yourself, “Who or what do you appreciate most in your life?” Then, observe the feelings and thoughts that naturally arise. Meditating for appreciation is about asking the question, not answering it.
Keep a gratitude journal. Research suggests that one of the most effective ways to express gratitude is through a gratitude journal, a practice in which you take some time to ponder the things that you are grateful for and put pen to paper. In a 2018 study, teens practicing gratitude journaling reported healthier eating. Additional studies have linked the practice to a lower risk of heart disease and reduced symptoms of depression.
If the gratitude journal has piqued your interest, all that’s left to do is to try it out. No rules are surrounding the practice. All it takes is acting on the motivation to start journaling (which shouldn’t be too difficult once you start thinking about all those gratitude benefits), finding a time that works with your schedule, and deciding on a format that makes sense.
In starting this practice, it might help to create a ritual — a series of actions that you repeat every time you’re about to journal. These actions could be anything from lighting a candle, to sitting at a particular desk or brewing a warm pot of tea. Eventually, these actions will let your brain know that it’s time to journal. They might even help you achieve a flow state, or sense of focus beyond the point of distraction, during your journaling. Spend some time bringing to mind the people and things you are grateful for, but don’t overdo it. Even the simplest things can bring joy and gratitude.
The one thing to keep in mind when it comes to your gratitude journal is that consistency is key. To observe some of the benefits, try committing to journaling for at least two weeks. Set a goal that seems realistic for you. Even three times per week of journaling have been shown to have an impact on our happiness.
One way we can integrate gratitude into our busy lifestyles is by taking in our surroundings. The next time you find yourself strolling outdoors alone, try this quick meditation. Start walking at a steady pace, which feels comfortable for you. Take a moment to take in the surrounding environment, focusing on what you see around you. Notice whether it is quiet or busy. As you continue walking, direct your attention to the sounds, then the sensations in the air. How does it feel against your skin? As you continue on the walk, settle into this rhythm. This exercise will help you focus on the present, and notice and appreciate the little things we generally take for granted.
If you are considering meditating as part of your gratitude practice and need some guidance, Headspace offers a 10-day appreciation course (available to logged-in subscribers only) that uses the body scan and reflection techniques to bring about a new sense of appreciation for yourself and the world around you. Headspace also offers a variety of meditation courses that can help with sleep, stress, and even focus. Take a look within the library and see what works for you.
Sign up for Headspace for free, and begin experiencing the benefits of meditation today!