What really happens when you begin to practice gratitude?
This week is a time when families are getting together to express how much they have to be grateful for in their lives. It’s a beautiful thing, but it also serves to highlight just how rarely we set aside time to do this.
As often as we say, “thank you” and tell people we appreciate their efforts, not many of us take the time to actually focus on the emotion of gratitude on a regular basis. We should though, because studies (and a ton of anecdotal evidence from successful people) show that having a regular gratitude practice can have profound effects on your health, your happiness, your performance, and even your wealth. It can actually change your brains chemistry!
In today’s blog we’re going to look at some of that evidence supporting gratitude practices and then go over the best ways (and some wrong ways) of deepening the gratitude you feel in your everyday life.
Let’s dive right in with a study…
The Science of a Gratitude Practice
I find this stuff extremely interesting. Check this out…
Robert E. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami conducted a study involving two groups who were told to write in a journal once a week. The first group wrote about things they were grateful for while the second just wrote about their annoyances.
After ten weeks, Emmons and McCullough found that the people in the group who wrote what they were grateful for were 25% happier than the others. They also slept an average of 30 minutes more a night with improved sleep quality and exercised 33% more. Think about what this means for your health!
Another study found that couples who regularly express gratitude for each other were found to last longer and be more willing to confront issues in their relationships. Managers who express gratitude often almost unanimously find that their employees are motivated to work harder.
And if we want to just step back from all the science and look at the simplest and most immediate benefit, just consider that feeling grateful is so much better than being angry, irritated, or depressed.
Best Gratitude Practices
Expressing gratitude shouldn’t be a complicated thing that takes up a ton of time in your calendar. You don’t need to meditate in silence for 30 minutes or write several full pages the moment you wake up. You should WANT to feel grateful all the time, and that means making it easy to do.
Here are some of my favorite practices to make a habit of:
Keeping a Gratitude Journal
Get a special notebook just for this purpose and write in it at least once a week. Keep each entry to one specific thing and write a full page on what it means to you.
A “Thank You” Letter
Take the time to write a meaningful letter to someone you truly appreciate, expressing how thankful you are for everything they’ve done for you.
Two Minutes of Deep Reflection
Set aside the time to think about someone or something important to you that you don’t often acknowledge. You can do this in the car on the way or work or at your desk between calls. What is important is that you put your full attention on your thoughts and feelings.
Google Death Clock
If you really need something to make you grateful for what you already have, just imagine losing it. This death-date predictor will spark a sense of urgency that will having you looking at your life in a different light.
How to NOT Practice Gratitude
You could argue that there is no bad way to be grateful, but science and experience shows that’s not totally true. There are a few common mistakes to most gratitude practices which could potentially make them ring hollow and work against your intended aim. You don’t want to become desensitized or fatigued by it.
There are three main problems I see in most gratitude practices:
Problem No. 1: Writing/Focusing Without Feeling
Gratitude can change your brainwaves and rewire your thinking, but only if you actually generate the shift in your body and mind. The biggest blocker here is when people just write down a list of all the things they’re grateful for. I’d suggest that when using a journal or giving your daily thanks on the way to work, focus on just one or two things you’re really grateful for and go deep into them.
Problem No. 2: Feeling Without Showing
The best way to see the results of gratitude is to share them with other people. Don’t just write in a journal and keep it to yourself. Make a point to tell someone how much you appreciate them every day.
Problem No. 3: Writing/Focusing on the Same Thing
This goes right back to “feeling” strongly enough to change your physical and mental state. If you keep saying the same thing every day, you run the risk of numbing yourself to the practice. Plus, you’re not trying to increase your gratitude towards a few particular things but develop a grateful mindset which encompasses everything.
Problem No. 4: Not Being Grateful for Things You Want to Improve
Transactions are projected to be down next year and that’s just how it is. There is a very good likelihood that most unprepared agents will make less money, but that’s no reason not to give thanks for everything you do receive. Comedian and TV host Steve Harvey, who claims that gratitude is the key to using the Law of Attraction, says that you should never complain about the food when your entire goal was to be able to eat.
Practice Gratitude for the Ones You Love
As we’ve covered, gratitude practiced correctly is more than just a nice thing. It can transform your life and your career and make you a happier and healthier person. But beyond just what it can do for you, the best reason to practice it is for all the people in your life. When you show someone how much you care about them, it encourages them to do the same for others.
So before dinner tonight, just take a moment and think about what you want to say to the people you’ll be with.