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12 Ingredients for a Gratitude Cornucopia

By Gay Falkowski

Nearly 400 years after colonists gathered to give thanks for a good harvest and for surviving their first year in the New World, we’ve learned that giving thanks is not just good for the community; it’s also good for the brain and body.

Studies done by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, show that practicing gratitude increases levels of happiness. In addition, Dr. Emmons’ research shows that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude. He further points out that “to say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.” 

Here are a dozen ways to exercise your gratitude:

1) Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly, or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way. You can do this first thing in the morning or before going to bed at night.

2) When you’re not in the mood to write, express yourself in images. Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures. Keep the artwork around for a visual reminder.                           

3) Practice gratitude around the dinner table or schedule it as part of another daily routine. One study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

4) Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation. In other words, use gratitude to help you put things in their proper perspective. When things don’t go your way, remember that every difficulty carries within it the seeds of an equal or greater benefit. In the face of adversity ask yourself: “What’s good about this?” and “What can I learn from this?” or “How can I benefit from this?”

5) When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel.

6) Notice how gratitude is affecting your life. Write about it. Sing about it. Express thanks for gratitude.

7) Send thank you notes.

8) Say “thank you” more. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, researchers found that just by saying “thank you,” managers can motivate their team members to work harder.

9) Write a gratitude letter to a person who has exerted a positive influence in your life but whom you have not properly thanked. Psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania tested the effect of different positive psychology interventions among 411 volunteers. The biggest boost in happiness scores came when participants were asked to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to a person they had never properly thanked for his or her kindness. The surge in happiness was larger than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting a month.

10) Imagine losing some of the things that you take for granted, such as your home, your ability to see or hear, your ability to walk, or anything that currently gives you comfort. Then imagine getting each of these things back, one by one, and consider how grateful you would be for each and every one.

11) Start finding joy in the small things instead of holding out for big achievements – such as getting the promotion, having a comfortable nest egg saved up, getting married, having the baby, and so on – before allowing yourself to feel gratitude and joy.

12) Stop complaining and you may increase your ability to focus on gratitude. Millions of people have taken the challenge proposed by Will Bowen, a Kansas City, Mo., minister, to go 21 days without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. To help condition the participants to stop complaining, they wear a purple “no-complaint” wristband. The result, according to those who have tried it: better health and happiness.