Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up with more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
One might argue that of course Oprah feels grateful, because she has everything and is now the wealthiest woman in the USA. If you know anything about Oprah’s life, though, you probably know that she started with nothing and worked her way up. And it wasn’t just hard work that got her to where she is today: when people comment on her current status she points out,
“I got everything because I practiced being grateful.”
Maybe more “secret to my success” stories should place a stronger emphasis on the role of leading with gratitude. Whether they start at the bottom (as Oprah did) or have a leg up from the get-go, people who understand the value of gratitude are better able to deal with and overcome problems, have better physical and mental health, and build stronger connections with other people.
The Benefits of Showing Gratitude
Whether or not you’re an Oprah fan, it’s hard to argue with the numerous studies that conclude that showing gratitude can have a positive impact on a person’s health. Here are just a few of the benefits of gratitude:
- “gratitude increases people’s self-control, and it increases their ability to wait” (which aids with long-term goal setting)
- “higher levels of gratitude are associated with better sleep quality” (who doesn’t need more sleep?)
- “gratitude is linked to lower aggression” (making you you less prone to angry thoughts)
- “gratitude fosters social support and helps to protect people from stress and depression” (alllllll good things!)
Still not convinced? Take a look at work by Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on gratitude (there are lots of links to his articles on his faculty page at the University of California, Davis, and on the website for the Greater Good Center at the University of California, Berkeley). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: if you search online for “research on gratitude,” you’ll find many more studies on this subject by numerous researchers!
Journaling Your Gratitude
Where there is gratitude, there is a realization that we can find happiness and peace even when things are not going our way.
Numerous studies have found that people who journal about their gratitude benefit greatly from the experience. One study coauthored by gratitude expert Robert Emmons, for example, found that people who kept a daily gratitude journal experienced measurably more positive effects (such as better sleep and increased life satisfaction) that those who recorded their “hassles” or “irritants.”
I used to be quite the journaler. As my life grew more hectic, though, my practice of writing down my thoughts in a book every day fell by the wayside. That happens to a lot of people, I think. But at the same time, many of us have shifted to “journaling” via our various social media accounts, where we frequently write about what we’re doing and how we’re feeling.
As you start to think about how to improve your gratitude game, first take a peek at your social media posts from the last couple of months. Are the thoughts, pictures, and moments you share in those places more positive or more negative overall? If it’s the latter, it’s time for you to make a conscious change, because posting negative things can be dragging down your spirits. (And it’s not just your posts that you need to worry about: consider hiding or even unfollowing anyone in your social network who consistently posts negative materials, because their negativity can have a detrimental affect your own mental well-being.)
Take a page from Arianna Huffington, who starts and ends each day with gratitude: right after she wakes up and right before she goes to bed, she writes down three things for which she is grateful. She doesn’t focus on big events; rather, she makes note of the smaller moments throughout the day that made her smile. To help keep herself accountable for maintaining this practice, she and a few friends all share their lists with each other.
The researchers (and Arianna Huffington!) have spoken: consistently tracking your gratitude can yield so many benefits! So what are you waiting for? And who will be your gratitude accountability buddy?
Small Ways to Show Gratitude
You can’t be angry and grateful simultaneously. You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously. So, gratitude is the solution to both anger and fear, and instead of just acting grateful, I think of specific situations that I’m grateful for, little ones and big ones. I do it every single day, and I step into those moments and I feel the gratitude and the aliveness.
Try this quick exercise to start the day on the right foot: in the morning (say, while you’re drinking coffee or showering), take just a few seconds to let gratitude for something that is working in your life wash over you. It doesn’t have to be anything big—just something for which you are grateful. (For example, it could be someone you know, an event that went well the previous day, or something that you are looking forward to that day.) Focusing on gratitude first thing in the morning can help you be more positive and mindful throughout the day.
Author, life coach, and motivator extraordinaire Tony Robbins also recommends starting the day on a positive note of gratitude. For him, it takes the form of “[focusing] on something very simple that makes him feel grateful, like the wind in his face or a child’s smile.” He also “sends positive energy” to his family, coworkers and others in gratitude for them being in his life.
Establishing gratefulness first thing in the morning not only helps him have a more successful rest of his day, but also staves off anger or fear that can lead him to make poor life choices.
The beginning of the day isn’t the only time to express gratitude, though. Brené Brown, an expert on empathy, courage, and vulnerability, urges people to pause during stressful, busy days and complete the following sentence out loud: “I am grateful for . . . “ With just that one sentence, you can recalibrate your mind to be more positive and less stressed.
Don’t stop with personally affirming gratitude to yourself, though: show gratitude to others around you, too. You can immediately start to integrate gratitude in your daily life merely by noticing and acknowledging the kinds of small kindnesses that we all take for granted. For example, thank your servers for filling up your water glass (each and every time they do it), say “Thank you!” to the flight attendant when they hand you a beverage (even if they charge you for it), and express gratitude to people who hold doors for you. Gratitude is a rarity these days, and you’ll be surprised (and amazed) by how appreciative people can be when you offer it to them.
Writer William Arthur Ward sums it up well:
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
Using Gratitude to Improve Sleep
Anyone who knows me well is aware of the fact that sleep can be somewhat elusive for me. Expressing gratitude and thinking positive thoughts as I go to bed has had a positive affect on my ability to stay asleep after I drift off. Research shows that focusing on something or someone for which you are grateful “programs” your subconscious so you have happy thoughts and dreams while you sleep. if you’ve had a lousy day and you can’t force positive thoughts? Go to gratitude.” When you’re expressing gratitude, you can’t be thinking negative thoughts.
Final Thoughts on Gratitude
Not every day is good, but there’s something good in every day.
Although the idea of leading with gratitude sounds like a pretty “hippy dippy” notion, the positive effects of gratitude can’t be ignored. There’s just too much supporting scientific and empirical evidence out there that supports the success of this approach.
One of my goals for 2019 is to give this practice a whirl and see what happens. Right here, right now, I make this commitment: every night during the entire month of January, I will write down three things for which I’m grateful for. I’m excited to see how this experiment in self-improvement turns out!
Want to try this for yourself too? Comment below if you’re on board!
 Just a few more examples: “In Praise of Gratitude” (Harvard University Medical School), “A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day” (New York Times), “7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude” (Time), and “A Grateful Heart Is a Healthier Heart” (American Psychological Association).