This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s an opportunity for us to slow down and a chance to be intentional, thankful, and grateful for all the good we have in our lives.
When it comes to giving thanks, did you know that gratitude, or more specifically, having a regular gratitude practice, has been growing in popularity as a way to support our physical and mental health? There’s even science to back that up!
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity...it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” –Melody Beattie
So, what is gratitude?
To start out, let’s find out just exactly what the concept of gratitude is. A few different definitions of gratitude exist, however, the definition provided by Harvard Medical School (HMS) provides a great overview of the topic.
According to HMS, gratitude is “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals–whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
Gratitude stems out of the field of positive psychology, and although the idea has been around for quite a while, it was not until the early 2000’s that scientists began to understand how practicing gratitude can support our lives.
How can it help?
So far, we know that engaging in a routine gratitude practice can support an individual’s health in the following ways:
There is even a small body of research showing that gratitude may support in enhancing athleticism and possibly may be associated with morality and judgement making.
Although the science of gratitude is still fairly new, exciting finds have already been made to show that gratitude is a practice we can lean into for support.
How can we practice gratitude?
When it comes to finding a gratitude practice, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Many different forms of a practice exist. Let’s look at the most popular options below. Maybe one will stand out for you.
Keeping a gratitude journal
One of the most popular options for a gratitude practice is journaling.
This can be done in a few ways. The first of which is using specific gratitude prompts. This can be an easy and structured way to get started and a great first step. Here’s a great list of specific prompts to get you started. Try aiming for journaling on 1-3 questions a day, or at an interval that works best for you.
Another great option for gratitude journaling is a more free form approach. With the intention of gratitude in mind, set a timer for 5-10 minutes and freely journal about the things you are grateful for in your life.
The last option, and possibly the most popular, is journaling on “three things” each day. This approach uses the same prompt, “what three things are you grateful for today,” as the fuel for journaling. If this option appeals to you, give it a shot! As an added challenge, try finding a new “three things” each day.
In my coaching practice at DV Health & Performance, gratitude is a “tool in the toolkit” to support our health. I’ve developed a short journal prompt exercise that I provide with my clients on the topic of gratitude. Please feel free to create your own copy and use at any time.
Sending a “thank you” note
Another form of gratitude that has been found to provide health benefits has been writing thank you notes. This can be a great option because not only do you get a benefit from sending a thank you, you also may make someone else’s day in the process.
Thank you notes are not limited to just envelopes and stamps. The same benefits can be reaped by sending out electronic messages such as emails and texts as well!
Expressing gratitude in person
Similar to writing a thank you note, we can also express our gratitude to our friends, family, colleagues and others in person.
Here’s a tip: When expressing gratitude in person, be sure to let them know what you are grateful for and how that’s impacted your life. It’s a surefire way to make someone else’s day and you also never know where that conversation may go!
Meditation or brief moments of gratitude
Gratitude meditations are also an excellent form of practice. Similar to other forms of meditation, a gratitude meditation is simply a mindfulness exercise (usually done in a relaxing, eyes-closed position like other forms of meditation) in which the focus of the session is on the areas of life you are grateful for.
These meditations can be guided or unguided, whichever you like best. If you are interested in trying a guided gratitude meditation, you can find one here.
Another mindful approach to gratitude is the “three things” mindfulness exercise. The best part of the “three things” exercise is that it can be done anywhere at any time. This exercise simply involves bringing to mind and reflecting on for a few minutes three things that you are grateful for in the present moment.
Next time you find yourself in a stressful moment during the day, give the "three things" exercise a shot. Take a deep breath and spend 1-3 minutes reflecting on three things you are grateful for.
As with any other health practice, I always encourage experiments. Perhaps you’ve identified the gratitude practice you know will already work for you, or maybe it might take some experimenting to find the right one.
I challenge you to choose a practice and run with it.
Be sure to set your parameters. Will this be daily? A few times a week? Choose a routine that will work best for you and that you feel confident that you can complete.
For a partner in your health and wellness goals, book a session with one of our national board certified coaches!
To learn more about Daniel or book a coaching session with him, visit DV Health & Performance.