The benefits of gratitude are manifold.
Despite these benefits, we aren’t always able to express gratitude, sometimes because we’re too busy, other times because negative feelings overshadow the good in our lives.
Here are seven easy exercises that help us give thanks and fill our days with gratitude.
1. Schedule a gratitude visit
Is there someone in your past who changed your life for the better, either through words, actions or both?
If the recipient lives close to you, arrange a meeting with them. Don’t tell them you’re bringing the letter, however.
Seligman says that by withholding the letter at first, you’ll make the exercise more fun.
When you’re ready, take your time reading the note without interruption to the person to whom you’re grateful. After, discuss it with them, and ask how they interpret it and how they feel about your relationship.
“When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life,” Seligman writes in Flourish. “But,” he continues, “sometimes our thank-you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.”
“In this exercise, ‘Gratitude Visit,’ you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner,” Seligman says.
2. Keep a gratitude journal, and make it personal
If you want to get the most out of journaling — and you’re motivated to become more grateful and happier — put time and effort into your gratitude journal.
Rather than writing phrases, elaborately document people you’re grateful for. By focusing on people (and not objects or events), you’ll be able to intimately jog memories and discuss them with the people you shared them with.
Then, think about what your life would have been like without that person; what effect have they had on you? Why are you grateful to know them? What positive contributions have they made to your life?
If you’re worried that journaling will be time-consuming, try completing entries just once per week.
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, studied gratitude journal writers and found that increases in well-being were present in those who wrote once a week rather than three times a week.
“This finding provides further evidence supporting the argument that not only can an intentional activity successfully increase happiness, but that the way that activity is implemented is critical,” she wrote.
As your journaling progresses, you should expect to find more resonance in your writings; they should become less general and more focused and personal, says Dr. Jennifer Strider, a naturopathic doctor specializing in mental health and emotional wellness.
“The writer will see how they have begun to embrace life and in turn found more positive things with which to surround themselves,” she says.
3. Make your own gratitude jar
Any old jar will do for this exercise, but it helps to decorate the jar so it stands out and reminds you of gratitude, says Dr. Colleen Georges, a psychologist, counselor and life coach.
The most important part of the gratitude jar exercise is where you place it; you want to put it somewhere you know you’ll be twice per day. That can be by the side of your bed or next to your toothbrush in the bathroom.
Placement is paramount because the jar is supposed to get you thinking about personal gratitude in the morning and at night.
Then, any time you’re near the jar and feel thankful, place a small amount of money in it. When the jar fills up, donate its contents so your gratitude can help others.
“Keeping a gratitude jar serves as a daily reminder that we have much to be grateful for in our lives, which enhances our happiness and overall well-being,” Georges says. “Using our gratitude to show kindness to a charity we are passionate about has a gratitude and happiness ripple effect.”
4. Disrupt a stressful moment with a smile
You don’t have to clear time on your schedule to practice being grateful; some gratitude exercises can be done in under a minute.
Short exercises are especially helpful when you want to ward off sudden bouts of tension.
For the first S, Ling suggests cracking a quick smile. Why? A smirk held for longer than 17 seconds has been shown to alter the brain’s chemistry and trigger happy feelings, she says.
During your smile, take a crack at the second S. Here’s where the gratitude part comes in. Picture your favorite foods, people or pleasures in your life.
“Feel the positive transformation that comes from shifting your mindset to a place of gratitude,” Ling says. “This will empower your entire day, and the next S.”
Finally, set a goal for your day. It can be general, like planning to enjoy your lunch, or specific, like thanking a coworker or family member.
“One of my favorites is, ‘intend to take excellent care of my mind and body today, and to inspire others to do the same,'” Ling says.
If you’re still holding your smile from the first S, you should give yourself some bonus points.
5. Set a gratitude alarm
If you perform a gratitude exercise every once in a while, but wish you could complete them more frequently, try setting a gratitude alarm, says blogger and author Jason Matthews.
With a gratitude alarm, you’re setting a reminder to take stock of the past 24 hours. If you set your alarm for 8 p.m., for example, you want to recollect all of the events that transpired since your last alarm.
For each day of the week, jot down five moments you’re grateful for. It’s helpful to separate the events by day. By the end of the week, you can look at your list and find common themes.
Did a repeated action trigger multiple feelings of gratitude? Why was one day lacking in gratitude and another loaded with it?
“You’ll carry that positive energy through a larger part of the day,” Matthews says. “Over time, your awareness of future events deserving gratitude will increase dramatically.”
6. Balance your complaints
Everyone complains once in a while, but if you find yourself doing it numerous times per day, you should monitor the frequency of your gripes by writing down each one.
You can do this by keeping a pen and paper in your pocket, or updating a notepad on your phone. Don’t just leave the complaints unsettled, however.
“The balance of positive to negative is important,” says Dr. Samantha Rodman, a psychologist. “If you get weighted toward negativity, it can contribute toward depression.”
For this balancing exercise, tally your complaints at the end of your day and match each lament with something you were grateful to have experienced.
“With this tally mark exercise, you realize how much of your day you’re devoting to complaining, and how much your mood can change if you focus instead on the positive,” Rodman adds. “At the very least, you’re equalizing your ratio.”
7. Single out someone who may not always receive thanks
Who, aside from family and friends, has helped you this month or made you feel more comfortable?
Was there a professor who spent an hour after class helping you solve a problem? Did a doctor figure out why you haven’t been feeling well?
Additionally, how would your community look if there were no postal workers to deliver mail to you or police to protect you?
Most of us tend to overlook these professionals and public officials and the critical roles they play in our lives, Georges says.
“Imagine a scenario where you didn’t ever receive your mail, no one came when there was a fire in your neighborhood or you had to do all of your academic learning without any guidance at all,” she says.
“Often, these individuals who care for our community, our health, our education and other needs do not get properly thanked for the great work they do.”
Try thanking these individuals by writing them a letter expressing how important they are to you and your community.
“Thanking them not only benefits the receiver, but it promotes the well-being of the sender, too,” Georges says. “When we say thank you for services we often take for granted, it reminds us of how fortunate we are to have them.”
About The Author:
Eli Epstein is an editor, content strategist, and content lead. Most recently, he was the Head of Content at CoFoundersLab, the world’s largest community of entrepreneurs. Before that, he was a copywriter at Codeword, a digital agency, where he wrote for Qualcomm and Airmega’s online channels. Previously, he was also a branded content writer/strategist at Mashable and a reporter at MSN News.
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