Gratitude is an affirmation and appreciation of the good things in life. It’s taking the time to notice — and savor — the moments, experiences, people and things that have a positive impact on us.
Finding ways to regularly express our gratitude not only has profound and positive effects on our health, moods and relationships, but it also fuels our capacity to do better in harder times.
Gratitude isn’t limited to the large, profound moments in our lives; it can be found in the smallest and seemingly most trivial moments, as well. We just need to pause throughout our busy days and pay more attention to what is good — an ice-cold drink on a summer day, the sound of a bird chirping, the way your dog greets you when you walk in the door.
Gratitude and Its Benefits
Gratitude is said to be the mother of all virtues. Scientific research has shown that the simple act of acknowledging and expressing our gratitude brings a wide array of benefits.
As shared by psychology professor and gratitude expert Robert Emmons, some of the benefits of gratitude include:
- stronger immune systems
- less bothered by aches and pains
- lower blood pressure
- greater motivation to exercise more
- improved sleep
- higher levels of positive emotions
- more alert, alive and awake
- more joy and pleasure
- more optimism and happiness
- more resilience, helping us cope with stress, trauma and negative experiences
- stronger relationships and social bonds
- more helpful, generous and compassionate
- more forgiving
- more outgoing
- feeling less lonely and isolated
Gratitude Journal Exercise
The accompanying five-minute video (above) includes a brief writing exercise with tips on keeping a Gratitude Journal, as well as an explanation of why and how it works, especially when done on a consistent basis.
In addition to keeping a Gratitude Journal for yourself, expressing gratitude to another person can strengthen and deepen your relationships. Here’s another exercise to try.
Gratitude Letter Exercise
This exercise encourages you to express gratitude in a thoughtful, deliberate way by writing — and, ideally, delivering — a letter of gratitude to a person you’d like to thank and perhaps haven’t before.
- Think about a person who’s had a positive impact on your life and to whom you’ve never expressed your deep gratitude. It could be a friend, family member, teacher or mentor, perhaps someone you haven’t seen in a very long time.
- Write a letter to this person expressing specifically what this person has done to impact your life positively and why you’re grateful.
- If it’s possible for you to hand deliver and read the letter to its recipient — or even do so on video chat — research suggests that you reap significantly greater benefits.
So, to whom would you like to write a gratitude letter?
Caren Osten is a certified positive psychology coach and writer. She works with individuals and groups who seek to cultivate greater positivity, clarity and calm as they navigate life’s daily stresses, challenges and shifts. Osten leads workshops and speaks publicly, sharing the benefits, practices and science of optimism, self-compassion, mindfulness and resilience. A contributor to The New York Times, PsychologyToday.com, Mindful and other publications and websites, Osten writes about health, well-being, travel and education. Learn more about her work at www.carenosten.com and find her @carenosten on Twitter and Instagram.