We need a gratitude practice, not just a gratitude attitude. As Brene Brown, a renowned social science researcher asserts:
“When it comes to gratitude, the word that jumped out at me throughout this research process is practice. I don’t necessarily think another researcher would have been so taken aback, but as someone who thought that knowledge was more important than practice, I found these words to be a call to action. In fact, it’s safe to say that reluctantly recognizing the importance of practice sparked the 2007 Breakdown Spiritual Awakening that changed my life.”
She continues, “For years, I subscribed to the notion of an “attitude of gratitude.” I’ve since learned that an attitude is an orientation or a way of thinking and that “having an attitude” doesn’t always translate to a behavior. For example, it would be reasonable to say that I have a yoga attitude. The ideals and beliefs that guide my life are very in line with the ideas and beliefs that I associate with yoga. I value mindfulness, breathing, and the body-mind-spirit connection. I even have yoga outfits. But, let me assure you, my yoga attitude and outfits don’t mean jack if you put me on a yoga mat and ask me to stand on my head or strike a pose. Where it really matters—on the mat—my yoga attitude doesn’t count for much.” From Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, 2010 Hazelden page 78-79
The body of research on the benefits of gratitude practices is conclusive. Studies range from correlational research on people with and without gratitude practices to encouraging students and people suffering from depression to adopt a short term gratitude practice and assessing the impact. Gratitude practices as simple as writing in a gratitude journal or saying what you are grateful for over dinner improve physical health, emotional health and overall well-being. Specifically, Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude has studied over 1000 people from ages 8 to 80. He found that gratitude practices can lead to improved health in the following areas:
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.
These practices can be as simple as keeping gratitude journals where you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. It can mean setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life that gives you the potential to interweave a sustainable life theme of gratefulness. He encourages his participants to keep the gratitude diaries for as little as three weeks and finds positive results. And there are no negative side effects.
I personally moved from an attitude of gratitude to two to three daily gratitude practices and I can really feel the difference. When I don’t practice gratitude I focus more on the negatives, worry more and feel more anxious.
As part of a mood log every night, I write a paragraph on at least one thing I’ve been grateful for that day. Usually it isn’t difficult but sometimes it’s as simple as a hot shower or my yummy fish and fresh veggies dinner. In addition, I have a gratitude buddy and almost every day we email a list of things we are grateful for to each other. Not only does that make me see my day through a positive lens but it helps me stay connected with her, even more important since I just moved 90 miles away.
Finally, on most days I do a guided gratitude meditation or Petitation.
I love a musical gratitude chant that Eve Decker has recorded and will be on her next CD available in the fall (see Evedecker.com). It’s a beautiful song that encourages the listener to focus on how grateful they can be.
For the Gratitude Petitation, I am guided to think about my pups Pippi and Pago and how grateful I am to have them in my life. Next I sit and think about how focusing on gratitude feels in my body. Usually for me it is a lightness, a warmth in my heart, relaxation in my face and shoulders and a softening of my stomach. Then I expand the circle of gratitude to include another being and check in with my body. I usually meditate in bed when my partner and pups are sleeping. It’s really soothing and peaceful to focus on how grateful I am to have them in my life. Following this, the focus is on gratitude about specific parts of my body. Perhaps most difficult, I am next asked to check in with gratitude about Shadow, Kitt, Woolfie and Hyjinx--the pets I’ve lost. The focus is on the positive times that I did have with them when they were still with us. Finally it’s back to focusing on the gratitude I feel when I think about Pippi and Pago.
For a list of additional practices, see http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/ten_ways_to_become_more_grateful1.
For more information on gratitude, the Greater Good Science Center has lots of articles and podcasts greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude.
Please let us know if you have a gratitude practice or try one of the ones suggested above and how it’s been for you. Good luck!