What Are You Thankful For? A Question That Can Change Your Life
Most of us just plug along, living our lives, getting through our days without giving much thought to how much control we have over our feelings about the ups and downs we go through. We might think, “Today was a great day. Yesterday was kind of blah. Last week was crazy busy and my partner was angry at me, so it was bad.”
Like me, you may find it challenging at times to bounce back from a deep disappointment. Recovering from a setback isn’t always easy, especially when I compare myself to others and don’t measure up to the way I wish things could be. The good news is we have more control over those moods that it might seem.
Research conducted by Robert A. Emmons of the University of California/Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami demonstrated consistent positive changes in those who only took a few minutes a week to feel thankful.
Subjects were asked to record five things for which they were grateful once a week, one sentence each about things that may seem insignificant, like sunny weather, a friend’s call or the love of their dog. After ten weeks, compared to a control group, this group slept better, felt more optimistic and expressed more general “happiness” than the control group.
There are solid health benefits to thankfulness, as well. According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, on average, people who practice gratitude regularly have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure than those who don’t.
Feeling grateful is one of the easiest ways to turn around a negative attitude. How can you incorporate gratitude into your daily life? Here are a few suggestions you might try:
1. Take 10 every day. Take ten minutes at the beginning of your day to sit quietly and think about everything for which you are grateful, starting with easy things like the scent of your morning coffee, the thought of a fresh new day or your comfortable bed. Build on the list and add more significant items as your practice develops. Make it a morning ritual that includes planning for a positive day.
2. Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal on your bed stand. Every night before you go to bed, write down ten things in your life, as it stands right now, that make you happy. On Sunday nights, go back through the list and read what you’ve written.
3. Turn your mood around. If you’re feeling particularly down, sit down with a pen and paper and write down 100 things that you’re grateful for. Once you start, keep going until you get the entire list completed. By the time you’re finished, you’ll feel significantly better.
4. Tell someone else. Write a gratitude letter. Think of someone who has been a gift to you. Perhaps you have a close friend who is always there to listen when you need to talk about something important, or a mentor who helped you in your career. Write them a letter or email and send it. Sharing your gratitude increases it.
5. See the positive in every situation. When something bad happens, find the positive angle by appreciating what you learned. Did you learn something so that you’ll handle the situation differently next time? Is it helping you become a stronger, more compassionate, wiser person? Can you share what you learned with others to make your life more meaningful?
While the techniques listed may seem too easy to be effective, you may find they work for you. As human beings, we’re fortunate that, when we really pay attention, we get to choose how we perceive things that happen to us. Making the decision to see your life through a grateful and more positive lens just might pay off.
What about you? What are you grateful for?