The Science Behind Gratitude (and How It Can Change Your Life)By Derrick Carpenter, MAPP
The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. And gratitude doesn't need to be reserved only for momentous occasions: Sure, you might express gratitude after receiving a promotion at work, but you can also be thankful for something as simple as a delicious piece of pie. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.
You’d think that just one of these findings is compelling enough to motivate an ingrate into action. But if you’re anything like me, this motivation lasts about three days until writing in my gratitude journal every evening loses out to watching stand-up comics on Netflix.
Here are a few keys I’ve discovered—and research supports—that help not only to start a gratitude practice, but to maintain it for the long haul.
Freshen Up Your Thanks
The best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you’re grateful for every day. Gratitude journaling works because it slowly changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on. While you might always be thankful for your great family, just writing “I’m grateful for my family” week after week doesn’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. Get specific by writing “Today my husband gave me a shoulder rub when he knew I was really stressed” or "My sister invited me over for dinner so I didn't have to cook after a long day." And be sure to stretch yourself beyond the great stuff right in front of you. Opening your eyes to more of the world around you can deeply enhance your gratitude practice. Make a game out of noticing new things each day.