For each new morning with its light
For rest and shelter of the night
For wealth and food
For love and friends
For everything thy goodness sends.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
According to Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading scientific experts, the practice of gratitude is two-part. First, it is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world. Second, we recognize that the source of this goodness is outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people have given us many gifts, big and small, and helped us achieve goodness in our lives.
Many studies have documented the social, physical and psychological benefits of gratitude. Practicing gratitude has shown to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness, life satisfaction and boosting positive emotions such as: optimism, joy, pleasure and enthusiasm. Research suggests it may help reduce chronic depression, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and depression, symptoms of illness, and sensitivity to aches and pains. It has also been shown to encourage us to exercise more and take better care of our health. Grateful people sleep better and are more resilient. It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including veterans with PTSD, and victims of natural disasters.
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — Marcel Proust
Gratitude strengthens relationships: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends, pro-social and promotes forgiveness. Grateful people report greater life-satisfaction and more positive emotions and they feel more connected to their community. One way to appreciate events is by imagining our life without them, such as a close relationship. Studies also have found that young children are more generous when grateful and adolescents more resilient.
Feeling grateful is a skill we can develop with practice. Science-based activities for cultivating gratitude include meditating on the things in your life that help or give you pleasure. At the end of the day, thinking about three good things is a great way to tune-in to the positive events in your life. Keeping a gratitude journal of five things for which you are grateful every week is a great start; Savour the good in your life—don’t just gloss over beauty and pleasure.
Focus on intentions: when you receive a gift, or when something good happens to you, consider how someone purposefully tried to bring that goodness into your life, even at a cost to themselves.
Last but not least, research suggests that thinking about our own mortality makes us more grateful for life.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
Regular practice of gratitude can cause our neurons to fire into more positive automatic patterns. The positive emotions we evoke can soothe distress and broaden our thinking-patterns so we develop a larger and more expansive view of our lives. Gratitude is an emotion of connectedness, which reminds us we are part of a larger universe.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein