On Thanksgiving Day, many of us will take a moment to give thanks. How about making gratitude a daily practice?
Research shows the practice of gratitude positively impacts well-being. Robert Emmons and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis, are among the pioneers in research on gratitude. Emmons’s book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier reports on several studies that support that gratitude can enhance our well-being. During his first study, he and his colleagues divided participants into three groups, each of which made weekly entries in a journal. One group wrote five things for which they were grateful. Another group described five daily hassles, and a control group listed five events that had affected them in some way. Those in the gratitude group felt better about their lives overall, were more optimistic about the future, and reported fewer health problems than the other participants. Gratitude activates brain regions associated with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that influences pleasure, behavior, and motivation.
A strategy for gratitude that I use and recommend to others is to ask myself, in the morning and before going to bed, “What am I grateful for today?” I also find it helpful to use this strategy during the day if I am having an especially stressful day. For example, when waiting for my morning train, I found out there was a forty-five-minute delay. After I emailed my client to let them know I would be late, I focused on the gratitude that I have for the train on most days. My stress decreased immediately.
Another practice I find helpful is to write a letter once a year to someone who has made a difference in my life. I had a very powerful experience when I wrote a letter to my first mentor. With the complexities that come with children and career, I had lost touch with her and it had been more than ten years since we had connected. It came to me that evening that I needed to thank her, as it had been way too long since I had filled her in
on the difference she made in my career. When I put the letter in the mail, I had a great feeling of gratitude just from writing and sending the letter. I would have been okay if she decided not to contact me in return, as I had not done my part in staying in touch over the years. I was excited when I got an email back within a few days and enjoyed meeting her for a reunion lunch.
How can you incorporate more gratitude in your life?
· Keep a gratitude journal, in which you note what you are grateful for a few times a week.
· Take a moment every day to be grateful for one or two things that day. This can be as simple as being grateful for a funny text message from a friend or a sunny day. Try choosing a regular time for this practice, for example, as you’re making your morning coffee.
· Send a letter of thanks to someone and put it in your calendar so you don’t forget. I do this at New Year’s but some people prefer to do it around Thanksgiving or on their birthday.
Gratitude is definitely a choice and comes in all styles. I have found it to be a key strategy for my recharge and resilience. When you appreciate the little gifts in your career and personal life, it gives you the energy