Gratitude defies easy classification. It can serve as an emotion, a moral virtue and even a coping response. It is the overwhelming feeling of appreciation to someone or something outside of ourselves for something in our lives that we find beneficial. Gratitude has been prized as a virtue by most of the world’s religious traditions and has also been championed a source of happiness by the media. Given the popular and religious views on the topic, many researchers have postulated if “an attitude of gratitude” is worth pursuing in regards to achieving a better wellbeing?
In a study from the University of California, Davis, researchers showed that not only was gratitude related to wellbeing, but that it caused wellbeing. People who were asked to write 5 events every week for which they were grateful or thankful were more likely to exhibit positive emotions such as happiness and calmness when compared to people who were asked to write 5 events that caused hassle and people who wrote any 5 events. Those writing 5 grateful events also exercised more, reported fewer physical complaints, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week.
Given all these benefits of gratitude, the easiest way to hold gratitude in your life is a gratitude journal. Keeping a journal by your bed and writing three things you are grateful for from that day before you go to sleep is easy, right? So why doesn’t everyone have a gratitude journal? I ask myself this regularly, as I have attempted several times to maintain a gratitude journal and just never follow through.
One piece of advice that I’ve found helpful came from Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive. When her daughter, Christina, was struggling with overcoming a drug addiction, her friend and her started emailing each other every night with what they were grateful for that day. Knowing myself, I knew I would be more likely to continue a gratitude practice if I was being held accountable to someone else.
So I reached out to my two best friends from college, both of whom live far away. I suggested that every night we send a group text just listing 3 things we’re grateful for. While we haven’t been perfect about keeping up with this, it’s definitely been more successful than trying to keep my own gratitude journal. And more than just reflecting on what I’m grateful for, we can also rejoice in what the others are grateful for. It’s wonderful to get a response saying, “That’s great! I’m so happy you got to do that!” Since we don’t see each other often, it’s been an inspiring new way for us to stay in better touch. We tend to let our busy lives get the best of us, but being able to check in with each other every night has been a blessing.
It is clear that gratitude has the opportunity to heal, energize and transform lives. Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence. Whether we are grieving over losing a loved one, recovering from a traumatic catastrophe, or life simply is not going our way, it can be difficult to see what to be grateful for. We have to work at it. Express gratitude in a way that works for you, whether it’s a personal gratitude journal, texts with friends, or another way. Think of it as strength training for the heart. As each day passes, you are practicing positivity that can foster stronger, more vibrant wellbeing.