Gratitude: A Practice

Having a gratitude practice or keeping a gratitude journal is somewhat trendy right now. You may notice friends on Facebook or other social media platforms listing their daily thanksgivings. Therapists, including myself, may even assign clients the task of keeping a gratitude journal at home. And, while I certainly speak gratitude to those I love and care about, I have never actually kept a gratitude journal or had a daily ritual specifically practicing gratitude. But here is why I am going to start, and why I would encourage you to, also.

Robert Emmons, one of the leading scientific experts and researchers on gratitude, has found that practicing gratitude can transform people’s lives in several ways. First, he says that because our emotional systems like novelty and positive emotions quickly wane, gratitude allows us to celebrate the present while highlighting positive feelings. And by noticing the positive, we are more able to show up and participate and are receiving even more from our good experiences and interactions.

Second, he found that gratitude reduces and even eliminates negative or toxic emotions. He also identified that grateful people are more stress resistant and generally have a higher sense of self-worth.

In his research, Emmons discovered that people who practice gratitude tend to have a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, are more likely to exercise and take better care of their health, sleep better, enjoy more positive emotions, feel more alert and alive, report more joy, optimism, and happiness, tend to be more forgiving, outgoing, helpful, generous and compassionate, and feel less lonely and isolated.

Shame author and researcher Brené Brown writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, “We’re a nation hungry for more joy: Because we’re starving from a lack of gratitude.” If you find yourself longing for more joy, connection, and peace, if you are feeling like contentment is just out of reach, or if you would just like to be healthier and happier, you might consider one of the following suggestions from Emmons to begin your gratitude practice.

  • Keep a gratitude journal, recording three to five things each week for which you are grateful
  • Write a gratitude letter to an important person in your life who you have never thanked
  • Practice being present and grateful in the moment when good things are happening.
  • When receiving a gift or something positive in your life, consider the effort made by someone to bring that goodness into your life.
  • Practice recognizing the positive by listing three good things that happened each day
  • Start a gratitude practice with your family