Thriving Together Series: The Well-Being Benefits of Gratitude
By: Milagros (Millie) Rivera, Ph.D., Director of Faculty Diversity, Inclusion and Well-Being, Office of Faculty Affairs
“Gratitude is one of the most powerful human emotions. Once expressed, it changes attitude, brightens outline, and broadens perspective.” – Germany Kent
Research on the well-being benefits of gratitude has found that a gratitude practice can help reduce stress, depression, hopelessness, and insomnia. It can also enhance willpower, and deepen spirituality. Gratitude, like meditation and yoga, is a practice we can cultivate. Giving thanks can help us slow down and notice ordinary things that can make us feel blessed and connected to others. We can notice our breath, the flavors of the food we are eating, the beauty that surrounds us, and the small acts of kindness from strangers. A gratitude practice can also help us become more likely to feel happy and engage in more thoughtful actions toward others.
During these difficult times, many are struggling with depression, stress, and personal challenges (health, relational, financial, etc.). In the book Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life, author M.J. Ryan says that having a gratitude practice is a simple way to experience a sense of well-being and contentment on an ongoing basis. She likens experiencing gratitude to giving ourselves a dose of “mental sunshine.” In essence, she says, “as we count our blessings, we literally bathe ourselves inwardly in good hormones.”
In his book The Little Book of Gratitude, Robert Emmons says that our language reflects our thoughts, and our thoughts partially create our reality. Grateful people, he says, “freely use words such as gifts, givers, blessings, blessed, fortune, fortunate, and abundance.” In fact, he says, “the language of gratitude draws our attention to the positive contributions that others have made to our lives.”
Finally, while a gratitude practice is personal, its impact can extend from the individual to the collective, generating acts of kindness and promoting a greater sense of community and connection.
There are numerous ways you can practice gratitude.
Happy Moment Meditation
Meditate on a happy moment in your own life that stands out for you. It can be something that happened recently or decades ago. Close your eyes, breathe gently and experience that happy moment again. See the scene, hear the sounds that were around you, feel the sensations. What was it about that moment that stays with you? What was going on for you that allowed you to feel grateful?
Grateful for Your Body Meditation
As you practice yoga, work out, or simply relax in bed at night, focus your attention on your body. Notice each body part and think about its function and then give it thanks for doing its job well.
Celebrate a Victory Meditation
Recall an important personal success that you are grateful for, such as winning an award, achieving a victory on the athletics field, receiving an academic distinction, getting a job promotion. Maybe you had to overcome enormous obstacles, demonstrating determination and perseverance. The steeper the challenge, the sweeter the victory and the deeper the gratitude. Share it with others.
I am Grateful Meditation Prompts
You can choose to reflect or meditate on all of these prompts or only a few. To make it easier, you can record the prompts in advance and play them back during your meditation.
I am grateful for the things:
- I hear
- I see
- I smell
- I feel
- I taste
I am grateful for:
- Family members
- Things in my home
- Things in my life
- Challenges I have overcome
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Meditate on things, people, or circumstances for which you feel grateful.
- Listen to (and reflect on) an inspiring poem or song, such as Grateful, noticing the music, the lyrics and the emotions that surface.
This Positive Psychology article explains what is gratitude and why it is so important.
This Harvard Health Publishing article describes how giving thanks can make you happier.
This Positive Psychology article features 13 Most popular gratitude exercises and activities.
This Daring to Live Fully.com article describes 22 gratitude exercises that will change your life.
This Daring to Live Fully.com article explains 40 simple ways to practice gratitude.
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