Gratitude is a heavy hitter when it comes to discussions of growth, self development and wellbeing. The great thing? It’s starting to up its weight class in the worlds of science and medicine too. More and more research is emerging surrounding the benefits of making gratitude a regular practice in your life. With studies showing it can pack a powerful punch toward improving resilience, lowering anxiety, improving mood and buffering overall wellbeing, this is something I recommend my patients try squeeze into even the busiest day. While discussions of gratitude journals might at first glance sound like they’d be better left solely to people sitting crossed legged on cliff tops humming hymns, stay with me. No matter how flexible you are (cross legged-ly or otherwise), we’re beginning to finally scratch the surface on just how powerful making time for gratitude each day can be when it comes to mental health.
A Daily Dose
For gratitude practices to do their thing, the most vital step is that they’re done daily. Research shows that benefits from practices like a gratitude journal or grateful meditation occur over time and with consistency. While the jury’s still technically out on how long it might take to offer up benefits, most studies point toward weeks rather than days.
The first step to the gratitude game is to thus do it each and every day. It doesn’t have to take long, but schedule it in your daily planner and make it a habit. Most people find that scheduling it for the end of the day as a reflection most helpful, but many others add it to their morning routine.
Pick Your Partner
While gratitude journaling is the most well know of the #blessed brethren, there are a whole host of ways you can make it work for you. Having an actual journal, pad or book can be a helpful way to make your practice feel solid and a defined part of each day. Equally though, making notes on your phone, on your computer, recording voice notes or even just sitting quietly to really bring things you’re grateful for into mind can all work too.
The key with any type of gratitude practice is to actively, and consciously, pull out something (hell, anything) to be grateful for at any given moment. Whenever I talk about this the most common question is around “what if there’s nothing good going on?” or (not uncommon when things are rough) “what if I’m not grateful for anything?”. In both cases, the plan is the same. Write down at least 3 things each day you can feel grateful for in some way. In any way. They might be tiny, and seemingly trivial. But in a lot of ways, that’s the point. That tree outside work getting spring leaves. That the barista smiled. That the shower this morning was hot. That you didn’t get another parking fine. Whatever. The key is to call it out, no matter how big or small and spend a few seconds being genuinely thankful for it.
‘So that’s it?’ I hear you asking. And, truth be told, yep – that’s it. It might be hard to start, especially if we’re in a rough spot. But the key is pushing through and knowing that benefits build. With time, research shows gratitude practices can not only help toward feeling better, but that they re-train the brain to look toward the positive more readily across the day. In no time you’ll notice picking out little moments to jot down in the journal for later, and your brain will be thanking you for it.