"Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance." Eckhart Tolle
Gratitude. We see lots of it during November, but casual gratitude is not as life changing as a discipline of gratitude. And, like any discipline, it can be cultivated.
While some level of gratitude can be intrinsically linked to our level of optimism, much more of it relies on cultivation, which, when you think about it, is great news. It puts gratitude on the short list of habits for happiness. The even better news is that simple gratitude exercises, or even a one-time act of gratitude, spikes joy and inhibits stress and depression for a period of up to 6 months.
How do we get more grateful? While there are many ways to cultivate gratitude (mindfulness, meditation, generosity), ultimately, Oprah got it right. The simplest and most effective tool is the gratitude journal.
According to The University of California Davis Emmons Lab research, “Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.”
The American Psychologist published a study with even more amazing data in support of writing out what makes you grateful. “Instructing participants to write down three things that went well and their causes every night for one week had a long-lasting impact. After one week, participants were 2% happier than before, but in follow-up tests, their happiness kept on increasing, from 5% at one month, to 9% at six months. All this, even though they were only instructed to journal for one week. Participants enjoyed the exercise so much, that they just kept on doing it on their own.”
Perhaps the best quality of gratitude, is that it pays back in spades, and not just to the one who’s grateful, but to everyone around them. This University of Miami article, An Adaptation for Altruism? found that gratitude is a motivator of pro-social behavior; otherwise known as paying it forward. “People feel grateful when they have benefited from someone’s costly, intentional, voluntary effort on their behalf. Experiencing gratitude motivates beneficiaries to repay their benefactors and to extend generosity to third parties.”
In other words, if you’re grateful for something someone does, they’re grateful and kind right back AND they are more altruistic to those around them. So your gratitude journal is making the world a better place.
Still not convinced you should start a journal? Than how about tracking your gratitude for the well being for science? The UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center is Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude with its interactive, shareable gratitude journal called Thnx4.org. It will prompt you to share gratitude daily for three weeks and your contributions can be private, or shared publicly on social media. But ultimately, you’ll be helping yourself and helping science.