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January 18, 2018

Thanksgiving is in the rearview, and a brand new year is underway. This may seem like an odd time to write about gratitude, but that is exactly the point. Thanksgiving is a holiday; a rare and special event, but gratitude is something that can make our lives better every day of the year. 

In our modern world, where advertisers and social media celebrities are quick to point out everything we don't have, it's easy to fall into a trap of wanting and complaining, where we fail to appreciate what we have as we chase the things we don't. But there is an alternative. Living with gratitude means cultivating a deep-rooted appreciation for your life and everything in it that colors the way you see the world. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Improves Sleep

In a 2011 study published in the journal, "Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being," students slept better after spending a few minutes writing in a gratitude journal before bed. As Psychology Today expounds, by focusing on what you're grateful for, you draw your attention away from the worries that might keep you up at night. Considering that sleep deprivation can make you more prone to accidents and mistakes and puts you at risk for a variety of health issues, getting a better night's sleep might be reason enough to start practicing gratitude.

Increases Kindness & Patience

Gratitude enhances concern for others, thereby lowering aggression. When we're kinder to others, we help them have a better day, which can result in them being kind to someone else. Choosing kindness over anger and negativity can reach a long way out into the world. If you've ever had a negative interaction that put you in a bad mood for the entire day, you can easily understand the power that reaction carries --and, likewise, the power that one patient, kind reaction could have to change your day and the day of countless others.

Improves Physical and Mental Health

According to Harvard Mental Health Letter, published by Harvard Medical School, test subjects who wrote weekly about things they were grateful for showed a dramatically more positive outlook than those who wrote about daily irritations. "After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation." Gratitude has even been shown to boost immune function and decrease stress.

Improves Relationships

Expressing gratitude for each other strengthens your bond and improves trust and intimacy. According to Psychology Today, "When we feel and express gratitude, it can cause a chain reaction of reciprocal good deeds which reinforces feelings of appreciation between those in the relationship. Gratitude enriches through a desire to return the kindness." This is true in all types of relationships, including, romantic partners, parent-child, siblings, friends, and boss-employee. By showing your appreciation, you make the other person feel seen and valued, creating a chain reaction of good feelings and deepening your connection.

Practice Gratitude Everyday

Gratitude is something that you can choose to embody in any given moment, and by practicing it regularly, you can cultivate an overarching feeling of gratitude throughout your life. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Every morning or night, take a few minutes to write down things you were grateful for that day. You might always make a list of five, or you could choose to write as many as you can think of without stopping for 6 minutes. If you don't know where to start, look around you: the clothes you're wearing, the food you ate for dinner, and a safe, warm place to sleep tonight might be the first three entries on your list. 

Make a Gratitude Jar

Once a week (or every day if you like!) after dinner, sit down with your family and write down one thing you're each grateful for that day, along with the date. Put the notes in a jar, and at the end of the year, read them all together. It's a great opportunity for bonding, sharing happy memories, and helping your entire family practice gratitude.

Write Thank You Notes

You don't have to wait for a gift to a write a thank you note. Think of the influential people in your life; write letters to your parents, your spouse, or your children thanking them for the beauty and joy they've brought to your life. You don't even have to send them if you don't want to. You could also write notes for the people who maintain your car, bring your mail, or groom your dog. Not only will a note make their day, it helps you practice your gratitude.

Meditate on Gratitude

If you'd like to try a meditation practice, use gratitude to get you started. As you sit quietly, you can repeat "thank you" over and over again in your mind to keep your mind from wandering. You could also use that time to make a mental list of everything you're grateful for, like a mental gratitude journal.

Say "Thank You" and Mean It

Instead of tossing those words around like beads at Mardi Gras, focus your full attention on the person to whom you are saying them, and consider what you're thanking that person for. Feeling a genuine appreciation when you offer your thanks conveys more meaning and has a palpable effect on everyone involved.

As you're driving to work or waiting in line, look around you and say a mental "thank you" to everything you see that you feel grateful for.

Like anything else, gratitude gets easier with practice. When you make it an intentional part of your life every day, it starts to come naturally. All year long, in every aspect of your life, you will see and feel the difference.


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