Gratitude has become very popular lately, and for good reason. According to research, gratitude is one of the easiest and most beneficial tools for boosting happiness levels on a neurological and emotional level. Many “gratitude practitioners” already employ the practice of gratitude journaling and other simple gratitude practices, but what if you’re ready to graduate to a more developed practice?
According to Robert Emmons, the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude, people are 25 percent happier if they keep gratitude journals. That means if you were to rate your happiness on a scale from 1 to 100, and you said 70, a journaling practice would bring you up to 95!
In addition, Emmons reveals in his book, Gratitude Works!, that those who keep gratitude journals also sleep one half hour more per evening, and exercise 33 percent more each week compared to those who don’t keep journals.
There are layers and levels of gratitude, and there are many techniques beyond just the basics in terms of how you can have a daily practice. Here are five daily practices for cultivating gratitude.
1. Write Down 3 Things
If you’re new to a gratitude practice, try this practice for starters. It is the most basic gratitude practice, where you write down three things for which you are grateful on any given day. It’s important that you be as specific as you can. For example, rather than simply writing down “I’m grateful for my husband,” it is more effective to write “I’m grateful that my husband picked up dinner for us on his way home from work today.”
The more you practice this, the easier it gets. For some people, coming up with gratitudes is really difficult in the beginning, and for others, it is so much a part of who they are that it’s almost boring. The idea for this and all the exercises is that it teaches us to establish a habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events.
2. Try a Timed Gratitude Session
Next try this deeper gratitude practice. Set a timer for five minutes, and start writing as many things as you can for which you are grateful right now. Try not to overthink this; instead, do it in a stream-of-consciousness style.
You might be surprised at how much you are able to write down in just five minutes. This is a nice practice because you can write about just one thing, or you can write your appreciation about many things, if you’re feeling really good. And on the days when you’re not feeling as hot, you can literally write about being grateful that you made it home safely, or that you have running water.
3. Focus on Depth and Specificity
For this activity, pick one thing (i.e., your apartment or house), and write gratitudes about as many details as you can. So you might write about how the ceilings are high, that there is soft carpet in the living room, and that the shower has great water pressure.
This practice can be especially useful when you are irritated or frustrated in some area of your life. Say you have a leaky roof, writing down a detailed explanation of all the reasons you love your house can help you put the leak in perspective and prevent you from letting it ruin your day (or week, or year!).
4. Focus on Density
Gratitude density refers to the number of people to whom you feel grateful for a single situation or circumstance. For example, if you recently received your Masters Degree, write down all of the people (your professors, your parents, your high school teachers, your spouse, your children, etc.) who contributed to the achievement of your goal.
This is a fun practice to start to see how everything is connected. It allows you see how far you can backtrack a given event. In fact, you can usually even backtrack some of the best things in your life to some sort of disappointment. For example, if you hadn’t gotten let go by your last job, you wouldn’t have felt compelled to apply for the Masters in the first place. By doing this, you’re able to accept disappointment as it comes more gracefully, and with faith that it will lead to something better.
5. Find Gratitude in Your Surroundings
Look around and write about what you see. If you’re in your office, your bedroom, or at the park, use your power of observation and mindfulness to really appreciate everything around you.
It’s so easy to take things for granted when you see them every day. This is a great practice for when you’re traveling or on vacation because it helps you to savor the experience, but what about trying this on your train ride to work? You might notice the beauty of the passing architecture or the vibrancy of the flowering trees in the distance. Appreciating what you take for granted will help you develop what Emmons calls a grateful disposition, which is ultimately the goal of the gratitude practices in the first place.
How to Commit to Your Gratitude Practice
Now that you’ve read about some different gratitude practices, there is a vital next step … you have to actually do them! Simply reading about them does nothing. Gratitude journaling goes in the same category as meditation, in that if it’s important to you, you must create the time in your schedule to make it happen, plain and simple. To help you on your way, follow these 10 tips for successful gratitude journaling, and be assured that you will experience positive effects on your life.
- Commit to a written practice for 5 to 10 minutes at least three times a week. Every day is best, but if it becomes just another thing on your list, three times a week can be more effective.
- If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have anything to write with, try the voice memo feature on your phone, or use social media as a way to share your gratitude with the people in your life.
- Go for depth over span. It’s better to give details about each entry rather than just create a rote list of items.
- Consider surprises, coincidences, and happy little accidents. What unexpected blessings did you benefit from today? What were you dreading that didn’t happen after all?
- Think of the benefits you receive as gifts from the universe. Offer your gratitude for the lessons, gifts, and opportunities for growth that the universe provided for you today.
- Think about the people to whom you are grateful and why. Who deserves your thanks, but never received it? Consider sharing your appreciation with them directly (in person or in a letter) for an even stronger effect.
- Be grateful for the “ordinary moments” as much as the “extraordinary” ones. Identify the things you are prone to take for granted, and offer your appreciation.
- Allow your gratitude for someone or something to last over time. You can repeat an item from day to day, but see if you can vary the details about why.
- In times of challenge, remind yourself of ways that the situation could have been worse. By being grateful for the negative outcomes you have avoided, escaped, or prevented, you prevent yourself from going down a negativity spiral.
Look at your gratitude practice as a way that you contribute to the world. By making the effort to communicate your thankfulness to the people around you, you show and share your love. When people are appreciated, they do better. And you can elevate the world one Thank You at a time.