How to Incorporate More Gratitude Into Your Life This Year

Studies show gratitude will change your life in more ways than one.

Posted Jan 01, 2018

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I'm going to get healthy this year." I've heard countless variations of the "get healthy" resolution from my therapy clients as well as my friends.

Some say they're going to hit the gym more often, others say they're going to lose weight. But the truth is few of them ever actually create positive change.

Although they're said with the best of intentions, New Year's Resolutions don't stick. They're based on a date on a calendar as opposed to a person's actual readiness to change. And most people struggle to stay motivated because their resolutions are vague or they aren't well-planned.

But, there is one resolution that seems to be the exception. This resolution is easy to stick to and it could be the simplest way to change your life.

The Gratitude Jar Resolution

Last year, I was talking to a friend at a New Year's Eve party. She said, "I'm going to make 2017 about gratitude."

She explained that every day she was going to write down the things she felt grateful for on a slip of paper and put them into a jar. Then, on the following New Year's Eve, she was going to read over all those slips of paper so she could remember the good things she'd encountered over the year.

Throughout the year I've asked about her gratitude resolution and she's stuck with it.  In fact, she said, "I look forward to doing it every day."

How many people can say that about their New Year's Resolution? I'm guessing, not many.

Right about now you might be saying, "I don't want to be grateful, I want to be in better shape." But, that's the best news—studies show gratitude is a simple but effective way to improve your physical and psychological well-being.

Science-Backed Benefits of Gratitude

Whether you're thankful for warm sunshine on a cool day, or you're grateful you have enough money to pay the bills this month, paying attention to the good things in your life stirs up warm and fuzzy feelings. But the immediate rush of positive emotion isn't the real benefit—gratitude has long-lasting positive effects as well.

Practicing gratitude means you'll be less likely to engage in the habits that rob you of mental strength, like feeling sorry for yourself. In addition, studies show this is what you can expect to experience when you make gratitude a regular habit:

  1. You'll develop new friendships. Expressing gratitude increases social bonds, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. When you show that you're thankful, people are likely to see you as a friendlier person. Acquaintances become more likely to give you their contact information because they want to stay in touch and your friends grow closer to you.
  2. You'll be physically healthier. A 2011 study published in Health and Well-Being found that grateful people sleep better (in terms of both duration and quality). Other studies have found grateful people are more likely to exercise and get regular check-ups, which can help them live longer, healthier lives.
  3. You'll experience improved psychological well-being. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology studies have found that gratitude reduces toxic emotions, like envy and regret. Scientists have also found that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
  4. You'll build mental strength. A multitude of research studies have linked gratitude to better coping skills and an improved ability to manage stress. But that's not all the ways being thankful will help you build mental muscle—a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major factor in resilience after a traumatic event.

Establish a Gratitude Resolution

A resolution to be more grateful could the best way to improve your emotional and physical health next year. If keeping a gratitude jar isn't your thing, however, don't worry. There are many other ways to practice gratitude:

  • Start a gratitude journal. Spend a few minutes each day writing down the things you're thankful for.
  • Create a gratitude ritual. Talk about what you're grateful for at the dinner table or make it habit to tell your partner what you're thankful for before you go to sleep.
  • Make a gratitude wall. Write down the things you're grateful for on sticky notes and put them on a designated area on the wall (or a door or a mirror) so you can be reminded of all the good things you have in life.
  • Write one thank you note per day. Decide that you're going to write emails or thank you notes to people. Thank your service providers, strangers, and friends and family alike and both of you will benefit from your gratitude.

Whatever way you decide to express gratitude, find a strategy that you'll be willing to commit to doing. And you'll experience a wide range of benefits throughout the entire year.

References

Digdon, N., & Koble, A. (2011). Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3(2), 193-206. 

Emmons, R. A., & Mccullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. 

Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84(2), 365-376. 

Williams, L. A., & Bartlett, M. Y. (2015). Warm thanks: Gratitude expression facilitates social affiliation in new relationships via perceived warmth. Emotion, 15(1), 1-5.