- Practicing gratitude can begin in childhood and be carried throughout the lifespan.
- Gratitude is about appreciation and focusing on what we have rather than what we don't have.
- Writing is a powerful way to practice gratitude.
Over the years, many studies have come forth showing that having gratitude can lead to happiness. I’ve always viewed November as a gratitude month and perhaps a perfect time to discuss ways that being grateful can lead to happiness.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a way to appreciate and focus on what you have, rather than focusing on what you don’t have. It’s about thinking positively, Although gratitude comes easier to some more than others, in many instances having and practicing gratitude is about maintaining a habit of being grateful. As I have previously written, gratitude is about feeling love and appreciation for the self and others. Many of us take our lives for granted and do not express gratitude often enough. Perhaps we are more inclined in our sixties to express gratitude than we were in our younger years, because we understand so much more about life and all its blessings.
In addition to keeping a gratitude journal, it is important to permeate each day with gratitude and marvel at the life we are living. More often than not, gratitude can become a built-in part of our everyday ritual. Expressing it is like keeping a tuning fork alive and vibrating the joy throughout the universe.
In her book, The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, author Janice Kaplan says that feeling gratitude is fun, and looking for the positive in her lived experiences have alone changed her attitude toward life. Kaplan realized that it’s not so much that experiences have affected her happiness, instead what’s important is how she chose to frame them so that the end result would be positive.
In a recent study published in the journal Emotion, researchers found that 10 minutes of gratitude a week can lead to huge changes in the lives of young students. There was an increase in feelings of connectedness, elevation, and indebtedness (Armenta, et al., 2022). This points to the idea and importance of learning and practicing gratitude at a young age, and carrying the habit as a lifelong practice.
It’s good to feel gratitude, but it’s also important to tell others how grateful we are for having them in our lives. You can do this by keeping in touch by writing snail mail letters and sending emails. Also, keeping a gratitude journal is another way to chronicle all that you’re thankful for during the course of a day.
Many people like maintaining this regular gratitude journaling practice either at the beginning or at the end of their day. Some people are often in a rush in the morning to prepare for their day and might have more relaxing time to write at night; the time of day is a personal preference. It's important to date your journal entries to refer back to them during more challenging times. Many studies have shown that those who are more grateful and express it more readily are more likely to be happy. In a sense, happiness is a state of mind.
Other Ways to Practice Gratitude
Gratitude may be expressed in a multitude of ways. Practicing gratitude can be applied to the past, present, and future. When applying to the past, you can retrieve positive memories and counts blessings about certain experiences that began in childhood. Practicing gratitude in real-time means not taking good fortune for granted. For the future, it also means maintaining a positive and optimistic attitude (Harvard Health, 2021).
Write a letter of gratitude to someone in your life who has given you something special, taught you something important, or inspired you in some way. Explain what their gift has meant to you, how you felt when you received it, and how you feel now that it has enhanced your life.
Armenta, C. N., Fritz, M. M., Walsh, L. C., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2022). Satisfied yet striving: Gratitude fosters life satisfaction and improvement motivation in youth. Emotion, 22(5), 1004–1016. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000896.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, August 14). Giving thanks can make you happier. Harvard Health. Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-ha….
Kaplan, J. (2016). The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (Reprint). Dutton.
Raab, D. (2017). Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Loving Healing Press.