Everyone knows that being grateful is a good thing, but scientific studies have begun to show just how positive being grateful can be for mental health and well-being.
In his book, "Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier," Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., differentiates between momentary feelings of gratitude and an overall disposition of gratefulness. Emmons' research on gratitude has shown that people with a grateful disposition experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness and optimism.
So what is a grateful disposition, and is it possible to cultivate one?
The disposition toward gratefulness is rooted in an individual’s basic tendency to experience positive emotions and personal well-being. While people’s tendencies to respond to life events and behave in certain ways do not change much over time, it is possible to develop a deeper appreciation for life. Savoring positive life experiences, viewing good things as gifts, and not taking things for granted can make a powerful, positive impact your on well-being.
Here are some ways you can cultivate a grateful disposition:
Journal your gratitude
Begin with a simple spiral notebook or any kind of journal. Take a moment at the end of your day to jot down three things that happened that day that you're grateful for. Write anything that uplifted your spirit, made you smile, warmed your heart or contributed to your happiness. Try taking it a step further and write down why it was good for you. Make note of whom, if anyone, played a role in your sense of gratitude, and how they impacted your life. This exercise will remind you of how others contribute to your quality of life.
This strategy works best if you are consistent and dedicated with an open mind. Gratitude journaling will come easier with practice, and it will remind you of the positive things in your life.
Gratitude, like other emotions, is felt and expressed physically in the body. Allow whatever elicits a feeling of gratitude to trigger a warm, rising physiological feeling of well-being. You might feel a welling in the throat or an expansion of your heart; you will smile and your face will communicate your happiness.
Practice grateful living
It’s easy to appreciate and even celebrate the good things in life when things are going well. But it’s also a time when we tend to take those good things for granted and forget to give thanks. When life feels broken or troubled, being grateful is especially challenging. While it doesn’t come easily, it’s the time we have the most to gain from a grateful perspective on life.
Dr. Emmons makes a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. He writes, “Being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives.” It helps us view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.
While we can’t will ourselves to feel grateful, we can choose to be grateful. Choosing gratitude has the power to bring perspective and hope. And with practice, you’ll find that your outlook has brightened and you’ll be able to accept, appreciate and express gratitude for all experiences in your life.