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Go backRx for a Brighter Life: A Strong Dose of Daily Gratitude

Life in the 21st century is busy and demanding, with an overriding culture that emphasizes what we think we need or want rather than appreciating what we have. Television, movies and magazines bombard us with daily reminders to have more: bigger homes, better jobs, sexier relationships. In our efforts to accumulate more material goods and pursue what we don’t have, it is easy to take the bright spots in life for granted.

Gratitude helps us to acknowledge life’s gifts, even when personal stress, pain and suffering would encourage us to think otherwise. Being grateful is like yoga for your spirit—it feels good. Shifting your focus to what your life has, rather than what it does not, is powerful motivation that leads to profound life transformation. Appreciating the good in our lives helps to make sense of negative thoughts, and enhances emotional outlook. This is more than just intuition or far-fetched philosophy. Research shows that expressing thankfulness is a surefire mood booster. People who are grateful tend to have a happier outlook and are more content with their lives. They sleep better, are more energetic and feel better about themselves; and while they experience the same opportunities for pessimistic feelings about life’s difficulties as others do, they are more resilient and tend to handle them in a more positive way.

The mind focuses on just one thing at a time. That is why when you are angry or sad, those are the only emotions you feel at the time. Practicing gratitude rewires your brain to view life from a more joyful, more serene perspective, so you feel a greater sense of well-being and view the world with more optimism and empathy. When you’re depressed, unhappy or remorseful, you’re more likely to see the glass half empty rather than half full. Focus on being grateful, however, and it’s hard to simultaneously be self-indulgent, anxious, fearful or angry. It is a strategy that works to smooth over and minimize the emotional challenges that are inherent with everyday modern life.

Nurturing gratitude helps us to grow upward, rather than spiral downward. Expressing gratefulness—to yourself and others—can be especially helpful when facing a health crisis: acute illness, chronic pain, a cancer diagnosis, or fear of recurrence. Gratitude counteracts negative emotions, so that you are better able to focus your attention on the present, rather than regretting the past or fearing the future.

Happy How-to

One of the easiest ways to cultivate a more appreciative approach to life is to keep a gratitude journal, jotting down a few specific things each day for which you are thankful. (When you have a down day, review your list to remind you of all you have.) You might journal in the morning to start your day on a positive note, or jot down your thoughts before you go to sleep. When you do this isn’t as important as how often you do it: consistency—making entries every day—is important. A day’s entry might look something like this:

Hearing “All of Me” by John Legend
Talking with Mom on the phone
My husband’s affection
Reading to the kids at bedtime
Working as part of a team with my co-workers

Gratitude is a perspective. Becoming more grateful doesn’t necessarily mean that you should view life unrealistically or forego all recognition of less-than-optimum experiences, but it does focus your attention on what you have, rather than what you do not. It’s an emotion that can be practiced until it becomes habitual: once you hop on the gratitude train, the more satisfied you’ll feel and you’ll find more and more things for which to be grateful.

Seven easy ways to practice gratitude:

Say thank you to others. Say it often and with meaning.
Approach problems with a positive perspective.
Learn to live life without a sense of entitlement.
Look for the best of situations, rather than the worse.
Be thankful for the kindness and caring of others.
Keep a daily gratitude list or journal.
Spend more time with others who are grateful.

Consciously being grateful may initially take a bit of effort, but you’ll experience a sizeable return on even a small effort. The more you practice, the easier it becomes, until it falls into place like second nature. Try being grateful each day. You’ll not only improve your own life, but you will undoubtedly do the same for those around you.

Resources: For more information about developing an attitude of gratitude and tips for keeping a gratitude journal, visit Greater Good (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu), or download a journal app by searching for “gratitude” on iTunes.