Gratitude is an immensely powerful force that we can use to expand our happiness, create loving relationships, and even improve our health.
Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional well-being and physical health than those who don’t. In comparison with control groups, those who cultivated a grateful outlook:
- Felt better about their lives as a whole
- Experienced greater levels of joy and happiness
- Felt optimistic about the future
- Got sick less often
- Exercised more regularly
- Had more energy, enthusiasm, determination, and focus
- Made greater progress toward achieving important personal goals
- Slept better and awoke feeling refreshed
- Felt stronger during trying times
- Enjoyed closer family ties
- Were more likely to help others and offer emotional support
- Experienced fewer symptoms of stress
If you want more happiness, joy, and energy, gratitude is clearly a crucial quality to cultivate. It is a fullness of heart that moves us from limitation and fear to expansion and love. When we’re appreciating something, our ego moves out of the way and we connect with our soul. Gratitude brings our attention into the present, which is the only place where miracles can unfold. The deeper our appreciation, the more we see with the eyes of the soul and the more our life flows in harmony with the creative power of the universe.
Here are a few powerful gratitude practices for you to try:
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Since ancient times, philosophers and sages from every spiritual tradition have taught that cultivating gratitude is a key to experiencing deeper levels of happiness, fulfillment, and wellbeing.
One of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice was Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:
- Who or what inspired me today?
- What brought me happiness today?
- What brought me comfort and deep peace today?
This practice, wrote Spinoza, would help us find more meaning and joy in our lives and would lead to profound inner transformation.
As you write in your journal, challenge yourself by not repeating items from the previous days— this will make you look more deeply at all the little things that enhance your life and give you joy ... waking in a warm bed; your favorite song; a phone call from a friend; the ability to touch, see, or hear; electricity; the beating of your heart; a hug.
You can write in your journal just before bed, when you wake up in the morning, or just before you meditate. The time of day isn’t important; what is important is that you consistently take a few moments to consciously focus your mind on your blessings. Commit to keeping a journal for a month. What we put our attention on expands in our life. By offering gratitude for all the goodness we experience, we’re inviting the universe to give us more and more of what we want.
Write a Thank You Letter
Make a list of at least five people who have had a profound impact on your life. Choose one and write a thank you letter expressing gratitude for all the gifts you’ve received from that person. If possible, deliver your gratitude letter in person.
In studies of people who have practiced this form of gratitude, the results have been amazing. Often the recipient of the letter had no idea what an impact he or she had had on another person and were deeply touched by the expression of such authentic gratitude.
While we may often thank people verbally, the written word can often be even more powerful because someone has taken the time to write their appreciation. A letter can also be re-read and treasured, creating joy and love that will continue to ripple out into the universe.
Take a Gratitude Walk
This is a particularly useful practice when you’re feeling down or filled with stress and worry. Set aside 20 minutes (or longer if you can) and walk in your neighborhood, through a park, around your office, or somewhere in nature.
As you walk, consider the many things for which you are grateful ... nurturing relationships, material comforts, the body that allows you to experience the world, the mind that allows you to really understand yourself, and your essential spiritual nature. Breathe, pause, and be grateful for the air that is filling your lungs and making your life possible.
Pay attention to your senses—everything you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and maybe even tasting—and see how many things you can find to feel grateful for. This is a powerful way to shift your mood and open to the flow of abundance that always surrounds you.