With Thanksgiving around the corner, it's easy to get swept up in the holiday spirit and have an attitude of gratitude. But once the festivity of the season is over, it's just as easy to get bogged down in the silly day-to-day stuff and forget how good gratitude feels. So how can you make that attitude of gratitude last throughout the year?
Well first, let's be clear: Living with a grateful attitude doesn't mean everything in your life is peachy all the time. It simply means that you're taking time to focus on the positives in your life -- big and small -- as well as recognizing the kindnesses, delights and blessings that have come your way.
The benefits of living with an attitude of gratitude are both powerful and lasting. Expressing gratitude feels good and gives you a happiness boost. Focusing on gratitude reminds you of the positive things in your life, including the people who surround and support you, and the simple joys that are all around. A grateful perspective can help turn negative things into positive ones by finding the silver linings. Finally, having a grateful attitude encourages you to thank others. And when you express sincere appreciation to someone, you not only make that person feel important and valued, but you also improve your own attitude and increase your gratitude level. Saying "thank you" is a win-win.
If you don't naturally have an attitude of gratitude, no worries. Interestingly, researchers have found that only about 50 percent of a grateful disposition is inherited from our genes, while 10 percent is due to life circumstances. That's terrific news, because it means that the other 40 percent of our gratitude is within our own control.
So how can you keep your grateful attitude throughout the year? Here are three fun and easy ideas:
1. Gratitude Journal
How would you like to have a more positive and optimistic attitude? Experience fewer headaches, muscle aches, stomach issues? Maybe even have a desire to exercise more? Believe it or not, research shows that people who keep a weekly gratitude journal are more likely to get these benefits, as well as feel more satisfied with their lives and have more optimism about the upcoming week.
That's right: Keeping a gratitude journal is one of the most popular and effective ways to cultivate gratitude. It's an outstanding opportunity to focus on the abundant gifts you are fortunate to have, as opposed to harping on what's lacking in your life. In studies, people who kept a weekly gratitude journal were happier after only six weeks. Yup, you can increase your happiness in less than two months. And it's easy to do!
Put aside time once a week to reflect on the past seven days and write down a couple of things you're thankful for. Jot them on a sticky note or handwrite them in a pretty notebook. List them in a note on your laptop. Maybe text them to a friend who's up for exchanging a weekly gratitude list. Find a format that's most comfortable for you, and just do it. Could be you're thankful for a special person in your life; maybe it's an accomplishment you achieved or some good news you received; perhaps you're grateful for a simple joy you noticed or something new you learned. You may struggle to think of one single thing -- or maybe you'll come up with a bunch right away. As it becomes habit to note things you're grateful for, you'll find that you look at the world a little differently -- more optimistically and with gratitude that flows more easily.
There are no rules or directions for keeping a gratitude journal; you're writing this only for yourself. But the more details you include in your entries, the better. According to gratitude expert Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, there's a benefit to being more descriptive: You get to relive the things you're grateful for not only when you're writing about them -- but when you reread them months and years down the road. The more details you add, the more vivid a picture you're creating.
In keeping my own gratitude journal, I've found that during gloomy weeks, although it's much more challenging to focus on glimmers of sunshine, it's ultimately helpful to dig deep and identify a few blessings I'm particularly grateful for. It has given me great comfort to realize that the good is still there, even during down times; you just have to stop and recognize it more mindfully.
2. Gratitude Board
Here's an idea that might appeal to the craftier folks looking to incorporate gratitude into their lives. Instead of making a vision board of things you wish you had, create a gratitude board to remind yourself of who and what you're grateful to have already in your life.
The board itself can be anything you'd like -- a cork board, a fancier framed magnetic board, a fabric-covered ribbon board. Makes no difference. The point is to cover it with things that fill you with gratitude. And be sure to hang it somewhere you pass by frequently so you get to see it often.
On my gratitude board, I post things like handwritten notes and cards I've received from friends, tickets from shows I've enjoyed, and mementos from special events. I also hang photos of people and places that make me happy, as well as emails and texts that have made me smile or laugh. Menus from restaurants where I've had memorable meals often wind up on my board, as do beautiful quotes and meaningful words. The key is to find and display things that bring you fulfillment and enrich your life.
At the end of each year, you can take down what you've accumulated, stash it in a big envelope or box for safekeeping, and start anew with a fresh, blank gratitude board for the year ahead.
3. Gratitude Letters
In my study of positive psychology and gratitude, I've learned that one of the most powerful exercises you can do is to write a letter of gratitude to someone who has had a profound effect on your life. For some reason, though, I hadn't been moved to write one until fairly recently. Sure, I'm grateful about many incredible people in my life, but not to the point where I really felt the need to share a little of my soul.
Unexpectedly running into an exceptional teacher from my high school days changed that. Getting a big smile and hug from him 30 years later triggered positive memories of his Spanish classes and really uplifted me. The very next morning, I hand wrote a gratitude letter to this superb teacher who had had such a lasting influence on my life, and I gave it to him. I remembered how capable and empowered he made the teenage me -- a fairly insecure, under-confident ugly duckling -- feel. That's a pretty special teacher: someone who not only inspired me to be a better student back then, but a more authentic happiness coach today.
Writing that first gratitude letter energized me to write more. Now, even when I write a simple thank you email or note, I try to express my gratitude in a more detailed and heartfelt way than just scribbling off a quick, cursory expression of appreciation.
Why not mark your calendar to write a gratitude letter once a quarter? Reflect on your life and remember when someone did something special for you. Think of people you know, love or admire -- spouses, parents, children, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, teammates, mentors -- who have been especially kind to you but have never heard you express your gratitude. Sit down and capture that overflowing sense of gratitude in words. Write from the heart and tell them how they made you feel. Sincerity is much more important than eloquence!
Oh, and one final note: Make sure you're writing the letter because you're spilling over with gratitude, not because you're expecting any sort of acknowledgment from the recipient. Remember, the payoff is in your expressing gratitude, not in someone else's appreciation of your sentiments.