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What Am I Grateful for Today?

As I think about my life, my heart swells with the feeling of gratitude. I really do have a great deal to be grateful for… from the changing colors of the leaves to the love of my family and friends, and even for that cup of coffee I look forward to every morning. My life is not without its challenges; however, I do remain grateful through it all. Practicing gratitude, especially during life’s difficulties, can help to boost positive emotions, as well as physical well-being.

Gratitude is defined as “A sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift whether that gift is a tangible benefit from a specific person or a moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty.” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) It is ultimately something you feel when you have been the recipient of someone or something else’s positive actions.” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) Based on this definition, gratitude happens when we receive something, or someone gives us something that is positive.

Gratitude is an Action.

Focusing on the feeling of gratitude is important. Thinking that you have a lot that you “should” be grateful for but not feeling the gratitude can be challenging and unproductive. One approach is to focus on the details to help you to deepen the feeling. This act of deepening the feeling of gratitude can also be called savoring. Briefly, savoring is the act of slowing down and taking the time to delight in something special, regardless of whether it is big, or small.

As we mindfully become aware of all that we can be grateful for and focus on those details by savoring, we may experience many benefits. According to Robert Emmons (2010), practicing gratitude can lead to:

  • Experiencing more satisfaction with life

  • Feeling more optimism

  • Building more stress resilience in the face of difficulties

  • Feeling increased bonding and connection with our social networks (friends, family, and others)

  • Building more self-worth

  • Experiencing better sleep and vitality

  • Experiencing a reduction in toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, regret, and even depression

The action of practicing gratitude can be incorporated into your life in several ways. Some of us may already practice gratitude by saying a blessing before eating or reflecting on thankfulness right before diving into a Thanksgiving feast. Again, the key is to incorporate savoring by bringing in the details of why and how you are grateful.

One example of creating those details is to not only bless your food but to also think about all the people involved in bringing that food to the table. Many people such as grocery store employees, farmers and even truckers worked to bring the food to your home. As you bless and reflect on the many hands that took part in delivering your dinner to the table, savoring and gratitude increases.

It is vital to remember that as important as gratitude is to health and wellbeing, one should not use gratitude to avoid or deny negative or challenging situations in life. Personally, I have often found that as I work through the hardships, I become deeply grateful for the lessons learned and the resilience developed through them.

In addition, gratitude should not just be used for the major things in life. Simply being grateful for drinking a soothing cup of tea or having a pleasant conversation with someone else is more than enough. Recognizing the little things and being grateful for them is an act of mindful noticing.

Another tip is to try to avoid using downward comparisons to feel grateful. Saying something like, “People are starving in the world, I should be grateful for this lunch” is not going to improve your gratitude but it could have the potential to instill guilt (a negative emotion). Things in life can always be worse but try to focus on your own gratitude without comparisons to other people or situations.

Most of us know about gratitude journals. However, research has found mixed results from using them. One study found that people who journaled frequently did not experience benefits. Surprisingly, the findings discovered that the sweet spot for receiving positive emotions from gratitude journaling seemed to be about once a week. More frequent journaling could desensitize one from appreciating the good things in life. Only writing once a week where the focus is on just one or two things that you are grateful for appears to increase positive emotions the most. As the saying goes, “a little goes a long way” when it comes to gratitude journaling.

Finally, Emmons (2003) suggests an additional idea to increase gratitude. This strategy involves focusing on what your life would be like without all that you have right now. Using this approach in writing or mindful awareness can help to increase the action of gratitude in the present.

What are you grateful for today?

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