As I wrote in my gratitude journal last evening before turning off the lights for some much-needed rest, I felt peaceful and centered. I am grateful for the gift of time that I give myself to be with my unhurried thoughts, feelings, and observations from the day.
Even after a hurried day that may have had too many expressions of worry or self-criticism, I find especially at this time in my day I am able to be still, to breathe, and to simply practice gratitude and appreciation.
The Research on Gratitude
As a researcher I know that studies have found gratitude to be a vital ingredient of a life well lived. In fact, gratitude has been found to be one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life out of any of the personality traits.
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, author of the books “Thanks!”, “Gratitude Works!” and co-author of “The Psychology of Gratitude”, grateful people have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, fewer aches and pains, they sleep longer, and feel more refreshed upon waking.
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Grateful people also exercise more and take better care of their health than do less grateful people.
Overall, it would seem that people practicing gratitude regularly receive many health-supportive benefits as well as the bonus of higher levels of positive emotion, joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism.
How Practicing Gratitude Makes You Feel
Although I’m grateful for the science and the empirical findings, in my day-to-day life, this practice really helps me pay attention to all that I have to be grateful for.
It really does improve my sleep patterns and helps me arise so much more positive and peaceful in the morning to start the new day. My quiet periods of reflection in the evening remind me to appreciate and to love the people in my life, the beauty of nature around me, and the many new opportunities and challenges that arrive each and every day.
My practice also includes expressing gratitude for the sorrows and disappointments, the struggles, and the discouragements that may accompany me that day. I am keenly aware that suffering, grief, and struggle are parts of life just as joy and celebration are.
My practice of gratitude assists me in finding meaning in suffering, as it teaches me about myself, and more often than not provides a life lesson that supports me in living a healthier life.
Gratitude Journaling & How to Avoid Gratitude Fatigue
Dr. Emmons recommends that we be mindful of gratitude fatigue, and to avoid it by writing in one’s gratitude journal 2-3 times per week. If you have much to feel grateful for and wish to write more frequently, by all means, do what works for you.
But don’t feel like you have to do it every day in order to reap the benefits. Just 2-3 times per week for two weeks is enough to result in positive impacts on health for up to 6 months.
Another option is to write about 3 Good Things that happened in the day and why you think they happened. Both gratitude journaling and 3 Good Things lead to many positive health outcomes in as little as 5-10 minutes each evening you write.
Of course 20 to 30 minutes is fine also, do what feels comfortable for you on any given day. Over time the practice will help you develop a habit of gratitude, allowing you to easily notice moments to be appreciated each day.
As I finish my gratitude journal and reflection at the close of my day, I am grateful that such a simple and easy practice actually works to help me feel more peaceful, more positive, more loved, and more connected to those around me.
I am truly appreciative and grateful as I turn out the light, knowing that tomorrow will also be a day with more wonder and experiences for which to be grateful.