Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season is a good time to focus on gratitude. Gratitude is a practice of noticing and appreciating the many blessings in our life and the world around us. Most of us would agree that this is a good idea, but it can be surprisingly difficult to do this consistently. One reason is that our brain has a negativity bias so it automatically looks for the negative things. And the negative tend to stick, while the positive are more fleeting.
It is possible to counteract this bias and train our brain to notice and take in the positive. A great way to do this is by keeping a Gratitude Journal. This is a simple practice that only takes a few minutes a day yet yields many benefits.
Multiple studies have shown that consciously noticing positive things on a daily basis improves our emotional outlook, mood and health.
For example, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have studied gratitude and published a paper, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life”
In this study, one group of people kept a list of things they were grateful for, and another group kept a list of daily irritations. A third group recorded events that happened without focusing on positive or negative.
They concluded that “gratitude not only makes people feel good in the present, but it also increases the likelihood that people will function optimally and feel good in the future” and a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”
We get more of what we focus on, so when we cultivate the habit of looking for the good, it makes sense that we will begin to notice more good in our life. It is a bit like changing our lens so that we see the good versus the negative. Even if it does not come naturally, we can get better at it. I believe it is well worth the effort.
Some Favorite Gratitude Quotes
“The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.” – Robert Holden
“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” – Anonymous
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melodie Beattie
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” – Willie Nelson
“A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things.” – Plato
“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” – Rabbi Harold Kushner
- Take time each day to write down five things for which you are grateful.
- Write a letter to someone to express your appreciation or gratitude.
- When you feel frustrated with someone, take a moment and think of something that you appreciate about them.
- When stressed or upset, stop and breathe; acknowledge your frustration and then think of 3 things that you appreciate.
- Increase the benefit of gratitude practice by noticing the emotional energy of appreciation in your body.