As I scroll through Happier, I’m always struck by how much gratitude is being expressed. Not only are people stopping to appreciate the happy moments in their lives, they’re actively thankful to experience them, whether it’s a morning walk or dinner with the kids.
It shouldn’t be surprising, though, because gratitude is so interconnected with happiness. Studies have shown that people who keep gratitude lists tend to exercise more, make more progress toward goals, be more optimistic about the near future, and generally feel better about life. Grateful people tend to have lower levels of depression and stress – not because they’re ignoring problems, but because they’re creating positive emotions. Gratitude can help people with certain illnesses sleep longer, and help children have more positive attitudes about school.
So why aren’t we all shouting “thank you!” from the rooftops? Well, some of us are. But gratitude can be hard to cultivate, even for gratitude expert Robert Emmons, a UC Davis professor and author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. “I find the sustained practice of gratitude difficult. It does not always come easily or naturally to me,” he admits. “I’d always been someone who struggled with attitudes of deservingness or entitlement.”
Want to add more gratitude to your life (and your Happier account)? Try these tips from Emmons’s research:
- Don’t force yourself to feel grateful. You can’t; it takes a process of learning and practicing to become more grateful. That said, “going through the motions” of gratitude – writing a thank-you note or posting a grateful update to Happier – can help create those thankful emotions.
- Take a vow. Make a promise to be more grateful. Emmons suggests something like this: “I vow to not take so many things in my life for granted. I vow to pause and count my blessings at least once each day. I vow to express gratitude to someone who has been influential in my life and whom I’ve never properly thanked.”
- Surround yourself with grateful people. Just as happiness is contagious, so too is gratitude.
- Focus on people, not things. Relationships give us an extra boost of gratitude.
- Look out for surprises. They do, too.
- Don’t take things for granted. Remind yourself how much worse your life could be. Appreciate the little things that aren’t so little, like the health of your mind and body, a good meal, or the feel of clean sheets.
- Think outside the box. In bad times, consider being grateful for your hardship because it’s an opportunity to learn patience and perseverance. When you help someone, consider being grateful to them for the opportunity to be generous and giving.
Write it down
- Include details. When you do sit down to record your gratitude, add as much detail as you can. On Happier, try adding more photos!
- You don’t have to be grateful every day. In fact, some studies have shown that once or twice per week – not more – is the ideal amount of gratitude journaling.
You can think of gratitude not as something that you do, but as part of who you are and how you live. “Gratitude is more . . . than a tool for self-improvement. Gratitude is a way of life,” says Emmons in his book. “Gratitude is a new way of seeing.”
We can see the bad things – the piles of work, the traffic, the freezing weather – or we can put on our gratitude glasses and see our amazing coworkers, a great song on the radio, and the chance to wear a warm, fuzzy sweater. What do you see?