4 science-backed tips for practicing thankfulness

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Thanksgiving isn’t just about family, travel, and turkey–it’s also a great opportunity to practice real thankfulness 🙌.

Gratitude is a practice, like meditation. That means it might feel unnatural if you’re unfamiliar with it. But, like meditating, the benefits of practicing gratitude are profound.

Thankfulness has physical benefits:

  • More energy 💪
  • Better heart health 💓
  • Sounder sleep 😴

It has social benefits:

  •  Stronger relationships 👫

And it has psychological benefits:

  • More positive emotions 😌
  • Lower levels of stress 🧘‍♀️

Need some pointers on how to become a better gratitude practitioner? We’ve got you covered.

Keep a journal

Especially if you’re new to a gratitude practice, jotting things down ✏️ will make it easier to remember what you’re thankful for–and serve as a reminder of the good things in life when you really need it.

The University of California’s Greater Good Science Center suggests keeping a gratitude journal that you commit to writing in 3x weekly. As you make note of what you’re thankful for, be specific: a short, detailed list is better than a longer, more superficial one.

You can be grateful for negative outcomes ❌ you avoided, as well, Cal’s experts say. And focus on surprises 🎁, which are especially valuable to look back on later.

Keep the journal for at least two weeks, then go back and review. You might find that you have more in life to be thankful for than you thought.

The lesson: Write down the things you’re grateful for, either as they come to you or at a designated time.

Notice the small things 

Gratefulness comes in many forms. You might be grateful for your health 💆, your loved ones 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦, or your pet 🐩. But you can also point your gratitude towards the smallest things–the sunshine ☀️, a kind word from a stranger 🗣, or the smell of your morning coffee ☕️.

Taking note of small graces can reorient you to a different way of seeing the world, Northwestern University psychologist Judith T. Moskowitz says.

“It might just surprise you that—despite how bad things are—there are things you feel grateful for alongside it,” she writes for the National Institutes of Health.

The lesson: Find small things to be grateful for, keeping in mind that life is made up of tiny moments. When you focus on these things for long enough, you can rewire your brain 🧠 to a place of greater positivity.

Share your gratitude with others

Telling other people how and why you are grateful for them can be transformative. Being positive around others can inspire positive feelings in them, research shows: suggesting that positivity is actually contagious 🤧.

We are so innately wired to give and take thankfulness that simply seeing others practice it can give us a boost.

“People who merely witness or hear about a helpful interchange may experience positive emotions as well,” University of Michigan psychology researcher Barbara Frederickson wrote in 2004.

While sharing gratitude can happen in-person, or over a voice 📞 or video 🎥 call, you can also write your feelings in a letter if you don’t feel comfortable opening up. 

Keep the letter to fewer than 300 words, the Greater Good Science Center recommends–and be specific as to how the person influenced you.

The lesson: Expanding your gratefulness outwards has a cascade of benefits, whether you say your feelings out loud 👄 or put them in writing 📝.

Remind others to be grateful

If you’re already making gratitude a part of your routine, you’re in good shape. For those of us who haven’t made it a habit, though, regular reminders 🕖 can be incredibly helpful.

In a 2016 study of how thankfulness affects school performance, students who received daily reminders to be grateful reported better focus–and better mental health 🤓 overall. More frequent practice was associated with better outcomes, compared to practicing gratitude once weekly or not at all.

“Students who practiced gratitude at least three times weekly tended to report an increase in their level of gratitude, their ability to focus, and their ability to remain resilient in learning,” the researchers said.

The lesson: Encourage others around you to be grateful, and ask them to do the same for you 🤝. By holding each other accountable to regular gratitude, you’ll maximize its benefits.

We at illumy are thankful for you this holiday season! As always, you can find us on the socials @illumyinc.

Photo by Junior Moran on Unsplash.

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