This time of year tends to bring out what our family calls the “I wants.” That’s the feeling one has when one walks into a store (online or in a mall) and starts to feel like they want everything in sight. Whether it’s the newest video game, a Princess doll or a little black dress, the feeling is the same. And it’s not a feeling we like to encourage.
We have been significantly helped this year by our son’s first grade teacher whose project for the kids is to “write letters that make other people feel amazing.” She has brainstormed with them many ways to express thanks, sincerely compliment others and contemplate the positive impact they have on your life. So, instead of writing Hanukah wish-lists, our son (and now the rest of us) are writing gratitude letters instead.
There is plenty of research that points to the benefits of an “attitude of gratitude.”
- Gratitude has been linked to better health, more restful sleep, falling asleep more quickly, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior towards others.
A recent study even showed that feeling grateful makes people less likely to become aggressive when provoked.
So how does one cultivate gratefulness? For some people, gratitude tends to come more naturally while for others it can be a real struggle to focus on gratefulness.
Here are some practical tips to get you started:
1. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to write in a journal five things for which you are grateful for that day. There is research out of the University of Miami which shows that doing this gratitude practice even once a week can have significant benefits. After 2 months of keeping the brief journal weekly, participants felt optimistic and happier. They also reported fewer physical problems and were spending more time exercising.
2. There is research that shows that praying increases gratitude. So, if you feel comfortable praying, you may want to consider including implementing this activity in your life on a regular basis.
3. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania recommends a gratitude visit. He recommends that you write a 300 word letter to a person who has changed your life for the better and then deliver it in person and read it slowly to him or her. His research shows that people tend to experience a happier mood for a month after the gratitude visit. Our son’s first grade teacher must be reading the gratitude research!
4. Share your gratefulness with others. An “attitude of gratitude” can be contagious. It is a healthy feeling to be spreading about.
5. When you are focused on the things you don’t have (from a screen TV to a higher paying job), try to write down a list of a number of things you do have (like good health, heating in your comfortable home, a pantry full of food). Research has shown that gratitude can help to decrease unhelpful thoughts – just another way that it may increase happiness and satisfaction.
Join me in focusing on gratitude during this holiday season – on replacing the “I wants” with the “I’m so lucky that I have.” Here’s to healthy and happy holidays for all!