A few years ago, my New Year’s resolution was to keep a gratitude journal, writing five things that I was thankful for each day. I was excited to see how the practice would change my outlook. After all, studies like this one from the journal Psychiatry show that there is an association between practicing gratitude and having a general sense of wellness. If taking a little extra time to give thanks could help me feel better, I figured it was a great way to start a new year.
The practice started off strong but soon became difficult. I found myself listing the same things over and over again—my husband, my travels, my parents. While that’s fine (after all, we probably all agree that family is among the things we’re most grateful for), I realized that I was jotting down items without really taking the time to appreciate what they meant in my life or think about why I was truly thankful for them.
Actually taking the time to feel gratitude—rather than just writing down things you’re thankful for without really considering why—is instrumental to reaping the benefits of a gratitude practice.
So, what is gratitude?
Gratitude is a big concept that can be hard to define. Because of that, it’s good to start with a basic definition, like this one from the same Psychiatry study:
“Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.”
The key to having a gratitude practice is to use those feelings of appreciation to change your outlook on the world.
“For most of us, it’s easier and more common to adopt a negative mindset over a positive one,” says Michelle Cederberg, a life coach who is trained in psychology. Being positive takes a lot of work, and gratitude can make it a bit easier.
“We actually have to practice being positive, but it’s dead easy to complain about the weather or politics or your bank account or the state of the economy,” Cederberg says. “It’s important to practice gratitude so you don’t get sucked into the negativity trap with everyone around you.”
Does gratitude have health benefits?
We already mentioned that there’s a scientifically proven correlation between gratitude and a general sense of wellness. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that gratitude can help people with mental health diagnoses heal. Practicing gratitude also helps people feel more valued and socially connected.
“Practicing gratitude is one tool that has been shown in both ancient philosophy and scientific research to support our well-being,” says Ellie Cobb, a holistic psychologist. “Gratitude has been linked with both physical and mental health benefits,” she adds, noting that it can contribute to improved sleep, better relationships, and stronger immune systems.
“Cultivating a gratitude practice can be immensely impactful for our well-being and functioning overall,” she says.
It’s clear that having a gratitude practice is important, so we asked six wellness experts how they incorporate gratitude into their lives. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Have an “awesome jar.”
Cederberg regularly writes down things she’s grateful for in the morning, but she also keeps an “awesome jar” on her desk at work. When something great happens—like nailing a client presentation—she writes it down on a piece of paper and deposits the slip in the jar.
“I get the moment of gratitude when I do that, and I get to look at my jar of accomplishments fill up and remind myself of the fact that good stuff happens in small steps,” she says. “If I’m having a tough day I can reach in the jar and get a reminder of the good stuff.”
2. Walk that way.
Sherrell Moore-Tucker, a yoga teacher and wellness professional, says that walking is her gratitude practice.
“Walking, especially outside, reminds me of my power to physically, emotionally, and spiritually move from one state to another,” she says. “Walking is symbolic of so many things and for me that is powerful.”
Plus, walking is something we often take for granted, but it’s an ability not everyone has. “I am able to do that, and for that I am grateful.”
3. Do more of what makes you happy.
“My gratitude practice is to identify the things in my life that truly make me happy, and then figure out how to incorporate more of that into my life,” says Amira Freidson, founder of Namaste Kid.
“Allow yourself to be surrounded with the things that truly make you happy, whether it’s a quiet cup of coffee every morning, breakfast with a friend, a good book, or anything else.”
4. Turn to social media.
Ralph Esposito, a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, is posting something he is grateful for on Instagram every day for 100 days. He’s about one-third of the way through the project and has already noticed a difference.
“My mood is significantly improved and I find myself waking up and going to bed in a better mood,” he says. “I am now focusing on the good in life and being grateful for the little things has made me a better physician, as I can sympathize with my patients better.”
Plus, publicly proclaiming his gratitude helps keep him on track with his practice.
“The best way to incorporate gratitude into my life is to keep myself accountable to others through social media,” he says.
5. Change your outlook.
When yoga teacher Stephannie Weikert finds herself getting frustrated, she interrupts that negative pattern with gratitude.
“I say to myself (or sometimes aloud), ‘I’m so grateful for this moment. There’s something important happening within me, and I’m open to learning about myself and how I can grow as a person,’” she explains.
“This simple practice is empowering and allows you to benefit from life’s challenges instead of feeling powerless.”
6. Remind yourself of what you have.
Each morning and every night Melody Pourmoradi, a life coach, takes time to think about things she has that bring her happiness.
“Gratitude puts us in a position of having instead of wanting,” she says. “We often get caught up in this idea of not having enough and not being enough. Operating from a place of gratitude cuts through our lack mentality and reminds us that we live in a world of abundance and possibility, transforming what we once thought was not enough into ample.”
Whether you start getting outside more, writing things down, or just focusing on the positives in your life, start your gratitude practice today!