Gratitude isn’t just important for having healthy relationships and helping us feel good. Research actually shows that gratitude is important for overall health, general happiness and is an important component of happy communities. While we tend to think of gratitude as a pleasant feeling, it’s actually much more. Gratitude is a way of accepting and embracing all that life is and also offers us a way to practice mindfulness. Gratitude allows us to perceive the goodness in life and all things coming our way.
You may be familiar with the term gratitude, and maybe it’s even something you practice regularly, but defining what gratitude actually means can be a bit tricky. One of the leading experts on the science of gratitude and professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Robert A. Emmons, defines gratitude in two parts. The first part is recognizing the good: recognizing the gifts of your life and all the amazing things around you. The second part is understanding that all that goodness doesn’t come just from you, but from outside of yourself- other people, fate, the natural world, a higher power, etc. Experiencing gratitude helps us to recognize just how much we receive from others (and in turn allows us to give back).
Gratitude is essential for living a happy life and this has actually been shown in research. In one study, two different groups were asked to write a few sentences about their week. The first group was asked to write about things that irritated them and the second about things they were grateful for. The group who expressed gratitude, were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.
It has never been clearer that we need gratitude in order to feel our best, lower stress and anxiety, and show up fully in our relationships and community. As we step into a new year, here are a few ways to express gratitude for the past, present, future, all while manifesting your best year yet!
Gratitude for the Past
1) Reflect on past achievements and milestones
As we step into another year, there’s never been a better time to reflect back on your past and recognize all that you’ve achieved. Taking a moment to reflect back on your milestones helps bring gratitude for your successes and allows you the chance to pause and take it all in. It’s common to constantly be reaching for the next best thing or chase after the next goal, but taking time to reflect back and appreciate where you are and what you’ve gained is essential in moving forward.
2) Express gratitude for lessons learned
Maybe there were some setbacks this past year or a few lessons learned the hard way. That is completely normal. No year is perfect, and in fact, it’s often in through those challenges that we grow the most.
Finding gratitude for lessons learned is a powerful catalyst for personal growth and creates resilience. By acknowledging and appreciating these lessons, we not only honor the strength it took to overcome them, but also cultivate and grow our inner wisdom. Gratitude for these setbacks and challenges goes beyond just acknowledging them, try and recognize the transformative power embedded in every experience, even the ones that seem arduous. Embracing gratitude for the wisdom gained through challenges is an empowering act that propels us forward, enabling us to face the unknown with resilience and an open heart.
Gratitude for the Present
1) Be present in the moment
Mindfulness and gratitude are incredibly helpful tools for living a fulfilling and happy life. Being mindful and present in the moment allows us to slow down and quiet our racing thoughts. By practicing mindfulness, you may just find more moments to be grateful for. Instead of rushing out of your local tea shop to get to a meeting, perhaps you slow down, take a deep breath and notice the flowers blooming. Both mindfulness and gratitude help to amplify the joy in our lives.
2) Appreciate the small joys in daily life
By practicing gratitude for the small moments, we can focus on the good and positive in our lives rather than dwelling on the negative. Life can get busy, but taking a moment to pause and appreciate the small joys that often go unnoticed is key towards living a life based in gratitude. Finding joy in the seemingly insignificant moments, such as in your daily rituals, can help elevate our overall well-being. From the warmth of the morning sun to the first sip of matcha in the morning, these small acts of pleasure remind us of life’s simple and beautiful intricacies.
3) Recognize and appreciate relationships
As Dr. Emmons described, a key part of gratitude is recognizing that we are where we are because of the people in our lives. Finding gratitude for the ones we love is of utmost importance. In fact, studies show that people who take the time to express gratitude for their partner feel more positive towards them, but also feel more comfortable expressing concerns about the relationship. Overall improving the relationship! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania also found that managers who said “thank you” to their employees found their employees were more motivated to work harder.
Taking time to recognize and appreciate your connections with family, friends, colleagues is a cornerstone of a gratitude-filled life. By acknowledging the gift of every relationship, we not only enhance our own well-being, but also contribute to the collective love and spectrum of support that makes life so fulfilling.
Gratitude for the Future
1) Set positive intentions
Setting intentions can be more powerful than setting goals because it’s about being purposeful in your desires, hopes, dreams and goals. Setting positive intentions, whether it be for the day, a month, or the year, empowers you to be in charge of your mood and where your energy flows. Intention setting can be a powerful way to create the life we’ve always envisioned.
Embracing a proactive and positive mindset helps lay the groundwork for a more fulfilling and purpose-driven life. It’s also much deeper than wishful thinking- it’s a deliberate act that can shape our reality. Cultivating gratitude in tandem with positive intentions propels us towards a future brimming with possibilities and opportunities for growth and success.
2) Define personal and professional goals
In line with setting intentions, it’s imperative to also set and define personal and professional goals. Creating goals helps to define what’s important to us, where we want to be heading and what we’ll do to get there. Goal setting provides clarity and a sense of motivation. When infused with gratitude for what you’ve already achieved and what it will take to achieve these new goals, these goals become more meaningful.
Ways to Practice Gratitude
If you want to strengthen your practice of gratitude and generosity, try incorporating a few of these ideas into your daily life:
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Daily reflections
- Express gratitude to others
- Write thank-you notes
- Meditation and mindfulness exercises
- Acts of kindness towards others
Ready to have your best year yet? Here are a few ways you can make 2024 a year of growth and opportunity, with gratitude at the forefront.
- Create a vision board
- Incorporate gratitude into goal-setting
- Building a positive (or neutral) mindset
- Affirmations and positive self-talk
Bottom Line: Why Gratitude Matters
While it may seem simple, practicing gratitude can change your perspective of the world. It can make you appreciate what you have, no matter how little. Having gratitude allows us to appreciate the goodness in our lives, for what’s around us, and for the people that make it all possible.
Research shows that practicing gratitude can help us lead happier and more fulfilled lives. In fact, it’s associated with better social well-being, emotional well-being, and psychological well-being. So whether you practice gratitude by writing a letter to a friend, thanking a stranger for holding the door open, or taking a moment to pause and notice how beautiful your surroundings are, know that you are contributing to a more positive community and world. Living a life of gratitude is a choice and one that is key for a happier life.
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- Daily Stress-relief Strategies: Deep Breathing and Japanese Matcha Tea
Disclaimer: These statements in this blog post have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
Bono, G., Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2004). Gratitude in practice and the practice of gratitude. Positive Psychology in Practice, 464, 481.
Jans-Beken, L., Jacobs, N., Janssens, M., Peeters, S., Reijnders, J., Lechner, L., & Lataster, J. (2020). Gratitude and health: An updated review. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(6), 743-782.
Lianov, L. (2021). A powerful antidote to physician burnout: intensive healthy lifestyle and positive psychology approaches. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 15(5), 563-566.
McCullough, M. E., Emmons R. A. & Tsang, J. A. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82(1), 112-127.