Cultivating a sense of gratitude can make us healthier, happier, and more connected to the friends and family around us throughout the year. Gratitude improves overall health, sense of well-being, connection to friends and family, sleep quality, and even blood pressure! But how can we practice being thankful on a daily basis? These three tips can help make gratitude a habit, resulting in life-long benefits.
Gratitude (noun): the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
1. Make a Gratitude Journal
One of the most studied ways of improving your sense of gratitude is to deliberately set aside some time to notice and record the things you're grateful for. So often, we focus on what's not going right in our lives. Keeping a gratitude journal helps to reprogram the brain to focus on the hundreds of little things that do go right, every single day.
There are many different ways to do this. Some people make a daily note of something they are grateful for - maybe on the day's planner or to-do list. You can find a paper and pen journal where you can spend one minute a day thinking about the things you're grateful for (here's one on Amazon), or use your phone as the tool, with many apps out there to keep a gratitude journal. Aura, a mindfulness app contains a section where you can create daily lists of things you are grateful for. Some people use their email to write a thanks-filled email to others (whether or not they actually send them).
Whatever your method, find a way to jot down a few of the things that you appreciate about the world each day. Make it a habit!
2. Create a Gratitude Ritual
Almost half of our lives are made up of habits - wouldn't it be great if feeling a sense of gratitude was as automatic as brushing our teeth? By creating a gratitude ritual, you can remind yourself to regularly focus on the positives in life.
The prototypical gratitude ritual is giving thanks before a meal, but there are many other ways to foster that sense of gratitude. Gretchin Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recommends a 'threshold ritual', where she takes a moment every time she enters or leaves her home to think of things she's grateful for. Maybe it's taking a deep breath every time you get into your car, or hug a family member when coming home from work.
Whatever it is, find something that you regularly do and begin to associate it with grateful thoughts.
3. Change Your Self-Talk
In any situation, there are many different ways that our mind can frame the same set of facts. Work can be 'that dungeon where I'm locked away for 8 hours a day until retirement' or 'the place I go to make a better life for my family' or 'where I go to help others.' All of those descriptions are equally accurate - it's up to us to choose how we frame our circumstances. In one famous story, President John F. Kennedy asked a janitor at NASA what he was doing. His reply? 'I'm helping put a man on the moon.'
So when you have a negative association with an event, place, or situation, ask your mind to present a different way to frame the same set of facts in a more positive light. Ask your mind to come up with a more positive association or description; you'll be surprised by how often it's able to!
We wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season, and hope we can all work to cultivate a sense of gratitude throughout the year!
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic.