“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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This weekend marks the celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada. The occasion conjures thoughts of turkey, pumpkin pie and family, but most of all it is a reminder to be thankful for all that we have in our life. In fact, Thanksgiving was introduced in Canada on January 31, 1957, as a “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” What if we extended this practice through the whole year – looking upon the everyday as a time to give thanks and be grateful? Gratitude is one of my recurrent themes and the evidence behind it is compelling. Most of all, expressing gratitude is a direct route to happiness.
Evidence of the benefits of gratitude
Learning ways to manage our stress are without question linked to ways to be ‘happier’. When you stop to consider a lot of what we do in life, or dream of doing, is propelled by our desire to feel happy. Feelings of happiness in turn lower our feelings of stress. Research has proven a strong connection between gratitude and happiness. As Dr. Martin Seligman says in his book Flourish, “When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life.”
Other benefits of expressing gratitude include, but are not limited to, the following:
1) Improved health – in a study by Patrick Hill et al., they found that people who were grateful experienced improved physical health, in part because of improved emotional health and an increased likelihood to engage in healthy activities.
2) Enhanced resilience – research has shown that remaining grateful even during the trying times of life can foster resilience.
3) Stronger bonds – between others and self. A study by Sarah Algoe et al. looked at gratitude and relationships in everyday life and found that gratitude can in fact build relationships.
How to practice gratitude
1) Keep a journal – This concept has come up may times in my posts because it is such an effective way to express gratitude. This can be done in so many ways from writing in a traditional journal or notebook to keeping an electronic record on your phone or computer. The key is to do what works best for you. Maybe that means once a week writing 3 things you were thankful for in the week or maybe it means writing one entry each day.
Marie Forleo encourages people to get specific and detailed with their gratitude practice in order to get the most benefit. For instance, take one thing/person you are grateful for and writing 3 to 5 specific reasons why. Robert Emmons, an expert on the science of gratitude, offers tips for journaling including getting specific, focusing on people not things and doing it less frequently (once or twice a week).
2) Be reminded – The Thnx4 project through The Greater Good Science Center – U of C Berkley offers a really neat way to practice gratitude. Through this shareable gratitude journal, you can share your Thnx through email, social media, a public journal or keep it private in your own journal. It is definitely worth checking out!
Want to keep it more basic? Write a post-it note and stick it on your mirror. In the morning, when you see “What am I grateful for?”, it may trigger some positive thoughts and emotions.
3) Gratitude letter & visit – In his book Flourish, Dr. Martin Seligman describes the “gratitude visit” as a way to express gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful way. In this exercise, you think of someone who has changed your life in a positive way and would like to thank. Write them a specific letter about how that person affected your life and then try to meet with them in person to read the letter to them. Just imagine the bond that would be strengthened through this exercise.
Yesterday, as my husband and I do every Saturday morning, we were listening to the Vinyl Cafe with Stuart Mclean. This week’s show did something similar where Stuart read two gratitude letters sent by someone about someone else and then had them both on the line to present the recipient an “Arthur” award.
As you celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada or next month in the United States, I encourage you to not only take a moment to be thankful for what you have in your life but also to consider how you can further incorporate gratitude into your life and the lives of the people around you.