“Today I choose to live with gratitude for the love that fills my heart, the peace that rests within my spirit, and the voice of hope that says all things are possible.” – Anonymous
We all know the basic formula for better health – eat good foods, get exercise, and sleep well. But what about greater happiness? Can you do something to feel…well, better? More content with your life? Science says yes, you can – and the answer is to actively cultivate gratitude.
The idea of cultivating a gratitude mindset is nothing new. Greek stoic philosopher Epictectus was writing about the benefits of cultivating a mindset of gratitude nearly 2,000 years ago. “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
According to Harvard researcher Shawn Achor, “Something as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days in a row significantly increases your level of optimism, and it holds for the next six months. The research is amazing.” Other studies show that gratitude increases willpower, helps keep you calm, and can boost morale.
Arthur C. Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, in a column in the New York Times, argues that acting grateful can actually make you grateful and uses science to prove it.
A 2003 study compared the well-being of participants who kept a weekly list of things they were grateful for to participants who kept a list of things that irritated them or neutral things. The researchers showed that the gratitude-focused participants exhibited increased well-being and they concluded that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”
The participants didn’t begin the study any more grateful or ungrateful than anyone else, and they didn’t change their lives during the study so that they’d have more to be thankful for. They just turned their outlook to one of gratitude, and they were happier for it.
In his column, Brooks suggests adopting three strategies to harness the positive health effects of gratitude:
1. Practice “interior gratitude.” Keep a daily or weekly list of the things you are grateful for. I personally keep a journal and write three things I am grateful for in it every single day.
2. Practice “exterior gratitude.” Write thank-you notes and put your gratitude to others on paper. I’m trying to be better at remembering to thank people for doing even the small things that affect my life in a positive way.
3. Be grateful for “useless things.” In other words, express thanks for the everyday stuff you usually overlook such as fresh fruit and air-conditioning. I am personally thankful that I can lie on the floor in a darkened room first thing in the morning and meditate.
And guess what I meditate on, more often than not?
You guessed it. Gratitude.
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