By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga
The holiday season often is a time spent expressing gratitude. The season of thanks begins this week as families and friends gather together around the Thanksgiving table to express gratitude. They often cite blessings such as strong familial relationships, good friends, jobs, homes and a sumptuous meal. Many people continue their focus on gratitude through December as part of celebrating the deep traditions of their religious faiths and cultures.
The regular practice of gratitude easily can extend beyond the holiday season and arguably is one that offers an immense return on the minimal time investment that it takes to maintain this practice throughout the year. For instance, researchers link a regular practice of gratitude to numerous emotional health outcomes, including greater happiness, more optimism, a greater appreciation of good experiences and the creation of strong bonds with others. This practice even boosts physical health, including fostering a stronger immune system and lowering blood pressure.
Interestingly, gratitude may come more naturally for some people. In a recent New York Times opinion column, Arthur C. Brooks points to research that indicates a genetic variation is associated with an individual’s ability to feel deeply grateful. However, we can also mindfully cultivate gratitude even if we don’t have a genetic predisposition toward thankfulness.
Developing a Gratitude Practice
Experts suggest a number of strategies that can help foster gratitude. These include:
– Meditation focused on gratitude. Jack Kornfield suggests focusing a meditation practice on gratitude in order to acknowledge the blessings and good fortune in our lives. He encourages individuals to focus their meditation on feeling how “year after year you have cared for your own life” and then think about the other parts of the world –a person, plant, animal or insect — that have enhanced your life. Kornfield notes that an increased focus on gratitude is linked to increased joy and an open heart.
– Write regular thank-you notes. Taking time to write detailed thank-you notes to acknowledge people who make a difference in your life can have a significant impact on happiness levels a month later. Furthermore, the potential health benefits expand if you deliver the letter in person and read it to the recipient. Not surprisingly, sending a thank-you note also can improve and deepen your relationship because the recipient understands his or her value to you.
– Think about all that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. The Greater Good Science Center recommends spending 5-10 minutes each evening describing three positive things for the day as well as why you think they happened. Researchers have found that doing this exercise for one week leads to greater happiness during the following six months.
– Keep a gratitude journal. Writing in a journal about what you appreciate on a regular basis also can have a significant effect on your quality of life. These entries can include past events as well as anticipation of future blessings.
To achieve long-term health benefits from a gratitude practice, individuals need to make these efforts more than a seasonal occurrence. Incorporating different strategies can help keep your gratitude practice feeling fresh throughout the year – and can make you grateful for the benefits it brings to your life.
Sources for This Blog:
Braines, J. (2015). Four Great Gratitude Strategies. Greater Good Science Center, University of California Berkley.
Brooks, A. C. (2015). Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier. New York Times.
Greater Good Science Center. (ND). Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude. University of California Berkley.
Harvard Mental Health Letter. (2011). In Praise of Gratitude.
Kornfield, J. (2014). Meditation on Gratitude and Joy.