Can Gratitude Change Your Life?
6 Approaches to Strengthen Gratitude
“To keep impermanence always before your eyes makes everything sacred,
because it always could be otherwise.”
– Kristi Nelson, Executive Director “Network for Grateful Living”
I appreciate you pausing to read these newsletters. This time of the year, I am particularly conscious of gratitude. Admittedly, gratitude doesn’t always come naturally. It is a practice I continue to grow as my understandings develop and deepen.
Gratitude acknowledges and connects us to life’s goodness. Significant research provides evidence that engaging in gratitude has measurable psychological, physical, and interpersonal benefits (Emmons, 2007). The practice of gratitude involves consciously paying attention to what we are thankful for.
Robert Emmons, PhD (2007), a leading researcher and expert on gratitude and positive psychology writes:
“…gratitude is more than a feeling. It requires a willingness to recognize (a) that one has been the beneficiary of someone’s kindness, (b) that the benefactor has intentionally provided a benefit, often incurred at some personal cost, and (c) that the benefit has value in the eyes of the beneficiary” (p.5).
Positive psychologists identify gratitude as one of 24 character strengths that help us manage life issues and experience life satisfaction. Engaging the strength of gratitude involves awareness of what we are thankful for, and taking time to express this gratitude (Peterson, 2006).
Practicing gratitude has many benefits, yet it can be difficult to practice regularly. Changing habits or developing new ones is typically accomplished one step at a time. If you want to bring more gratitude into your days, you might find it helpful to choose one small step to try, before moving to the next one.
Six Approaches to Strengthen Gratitude
1. Strengthening Gratitude You Already Practice. When in your life do you already experience gratitude? Do you appreciate that the sun is shining? Are you thankful for a loved one? When these kinds of experiences occur, remind yourself to pause for seconds or moments and pay attention to the gratitude you feel. Perhaps say silent or oral word(s) of thanks.
2. Keeping a Gratitude Journal. Writing daily in a gratitude journal is one of the most effective strategies to get grateful, according to research conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons (2007). Although there is no specific right way to do this, paying attention to what we are grateful for on a daily basis is most effective. Why write? Evidence shows that putting thoughts into the language of words – oral or written – is more effective than just thoughts.
3. Engaging in meditations, prayers, or words directed toward a universal life-force. Words of gratitude, thanks, and acceptance of the gifts we receive are endorsed in many, if not all, spiritual traditions. A 2016 Gallup survey reported 89% of respondents replied yes to a question asking if they believe in God or a universal spirit. In addition, Dr. Emmons notes that an auxiliary finding in one of his studies indicated that students who prayed about their goals were more likely to work toward achieving them.
4. Employing gratitude language. Using phrases like “I appreciate”, “This is a gift”, “Thank You”, “I recognize…”, “I want to express my gratitude for ….” can help you and the person you are thanking experience gratitude.
5. Share gratitude with a friend. A few weeks ago, a friend and I decided to try a gratitude practice that we would share with one another. Once daily we each use our smart phones to text few words or a sentence expressing gratitude about something that we appreciate that day. It has helped us further develop our gratitude practices and has been fun to share.
6. Using a prompt or structure as a reminder. To create a gratitude habit, employ a prompt to bring your attention to your intention to take action (Berns-Zare, 2017). For example, setting a calendar alert on the smart phone or posting a reminder image where you will see it, such as your desk, or near your bedside or mirror.
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was “Thank You,” that would be enough.”
Thank You to each of you for your readership and support!
- Berns-Zare, I. (2017). Using Structure to Stay Focused on Your Goal.
- Emmons, R. (2007). Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
- Gallup News (2016).: Survey “How Important would you say religion is in your life?”
- Nelson K. (Nov 26, 2016). Grateful Living as a Practice for Every Moment.
- Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press, NY.
- VIA Institute on Character: http://www.viacharacter.org/www
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Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD, PCC, CMC is an ICF Credentialed Professional Coach and Speaker. Ilene helps people live their best lives by bringing mind, body, and spirit into flow with their strengths, callings and potential. She inspires clients to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons. Find Ilene online and access free resources at http://ileneberns-zare.com.
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