Gratitude is one of the “happiness tools” that is available to us any time of the day but we tend to overlook it. To cultivate gratitude we don’t need any money or does it take a lot of time, and the benefits are enormous.
Studies have shown that there is a strong and consistent relation between gratitude and higher levels of happiness. Gratitude also helps us to feel increased positive emotions, savour good experiences, improve our health, face difficulties, and build stronger relationships1.
In one study, two researchers for the University of Miami, assigned to three groups the task of writing a few lines during the week. The 1st group wrote about things that happened to them during the week and they felt grateful about, the 2nd group about things that happened to them and irritated them, and the 3rd group wrote about things that happened without emphasizing a positive or negative aspect. After 10 weeks, the participants of the 1st group – that wrote with gratitude- were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, worked out more, and had fewer visits to physicians than those in the 2nd group that wrote about irritating things2.
Time and time again research has shown that doing simple exercises, like keeping a weekly gratitude journal or writing gratitude letters, help us in increasing our well–being, decreasing feelings of depression, and actually change the way our brains are wired so that these feelings linger for a long time after the exercises are done3,4.
We can then think of our brain like having a “gratitude muscle” that, like our other muscles, it gets stronger the more we exercise it. Therefore, if we make a conscious effort to feel gratitude in our daily lives, the more this feeling will come spontaneously in the future with all the personal benefits that come with it.
One simple way of cultivating and exercising this “muscle” is by keeping a weekly gratitude journal. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but if you don’t know where to start here are some suggestions to guide you through.
- First of all let me tell you that that you will need no more than 15 minutes each time and not every day. Since our mind tends to adapt to repetitive positive experiences and become numb to them, it is better to write in the journal 1-3 times per week.
- The aim of this exercise is to not only remember a good event, person, thing in your life, but to let yourself feel all the positive emotions that accompany it.
- Write – and not just think about- up to 5 things that you feel grateful for. These could range from something relatively trivial – the tasty cookie my colleague gave me this morning – to something very important – the healthy baby boy my sister gave birth to.
- Try to be as specific as possible to help yourself experience the feelings that go along with the experience. It’s better to write “I am grateful for the soup my partner made for me on Tuesday when I wasn’t feeling well” rather than “I am grateful for my partner”.
- Don’t take your good fortune for granted. Look at the good things, people, and experiences as gifts. Try to imagine how your life would be like without these and attempt to feel grateful for everything that you managed to escape, prevent, or turned out into something positive.
- Revise and repeat. If you want to write again about a person, event, experience try to look at it from a different angle and focus on another aspect of that person, event, experience.
If you decide to start this journal, commit yourself to it and with time you will have created your own “happiness guide”, to which you can go to on those gloomy days.
- Sansone RA, et al. “Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,” Psychiatry (Nov. 2010): Vol. 7, No. 11, pp. 18–22.
- Emmons RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.
- Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist (July–Aug. 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21.
- Kini P, et al. “The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity,” NeuroImage (Mar 2016): Vol.128, pp. 1-10.