In a materialistic culture of over-stimulation that is evolving faster than the human race, it’s easy to find ourselves in a whirlwind of negative thoughts, especially considering that research has shown that positive emotions wear off quickly (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2012). Our emotional systems favor novelty, so once the excitement of that new promotion, loft apartment, or reenergizing trip wears off, our negative mindset is cued to creep in. Actively practicing gratitude, however, can replenish our minds by savoring those positive experiences as we continue to extract appreciation for them. So, what is gratitude? 

Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation for what one has. It means taking the time to recognize the value of all things positive whether they be past or present. Positive psychology has started to explore the benefits of implementing practices of gratitude into our daily lives, and the results have been endless. Robert Emmons, the leading scientist on gratitude, explains that practicing gratitude magnifies positive emotions, heightens self-worth, and combats negativity (insert citation*). He explains that gratitude is a celebration of the present moment by affirming that there are good things in the world, and that gratitude encourages us to take a step back and acknowledge where those good things came from. Now, let’s discuss the steps that you can take to promote the development of gratitude in your mind.

 1. Keep a Gratitude Journal:  

Positive emotions are incompatible with negative emotions (Garland et al. 2010). Reflecting on the goodness in your life in a gratitude journal will elicit positive emotions that in turn, lessen the attention that you pay to any potential negative ones. Start with weekly recordings of 3-5 things for which you feel grateful. Once comfortable, advance your journaling to daily. Try to be as specific as possible, and go for depth over breadth. By doing so, you will begin to train your mind to always focus on the assets in your life, and not the burdens. 

 

2. Write a Gratitude Letter:

 When Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman had 411 participants write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone whom they never properly thanked, participants immediately displayed a significant increase in happiness scores (Seligman et al. 2005). Gratitude is a social emotion that brings to our attention how others have affirmed and supported us. Expressing gratitude to those whom you are thankful can strengthen your bond and even helps to build empathy. Make a habit of writing one gratitude letter per month, and encourage yourself to deliver it in person. Once in a while, don’t forget to write one to yourself.

 

3. Use a Gratitude White Board:

Not much time to write? Try hanging a whiteboard on your fridge and simply jot down one thing that you are grateful for each morning. If there’s no space on the fridge, try placing your whiteboard somewhere that you come across daily, that way you’ll be reminded to take a moment and recount your blessings as you prepare the coffee, or before you sit in lotus position. At the end of your busy week, reflect on your previous week’s work, and all that enriches your life. If you live with family members or roommates, ask them to join in too. After all, gratitude is a celebration, and celebrations are always fun with others. 

 

To wrap up: gratitude is the quality of being thankful, and research supports that practicing gratitude is a leading contributor to happiness. We challenge you to start letting the positivity in your life blossom by cultivating gratitude with the activities provided above. Let’s start by asking, what are you grateful for today?