Like any skill worth mastering, gratitude takes daily practice
Building it into your routines and relationship can improve your health and happiness
Editor’s note: Dana Santas is the creator of Radius Yoga Conditioning, a yoga style designed to help athletes move, breathe and focus better. She’s the yoga trainer for the Atlanta Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic and dozens of pros in the National Football League, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.
As wonderful as it is to devote an entire day to celebrating gratitude, Thanksgiving shouldn’t be the only time we reflect on reasons to give thanks. Although one-time efforts to show gratitude produce immediate boosts in happiness and drops in depression, if not repeated the positive effects disappear over time. In fact, a growing body of research supports that daily doses of gratitude deliver marked ongoing benefits, ranging from improved mental and physical health to enhanced relationships, self-esteem and overall life satisfaction.
Like any skill worth mastering, gratitude takes practice. Here are three approaches that offer easy, everyday ways to integrate gratitude into your lifestyle.
Sow the seeds of gratitude every day
Every morning, set your focus on what you have – not what you don’t – by identifying at least one positive thing in your life. Be careful to avoid anything materialistic. Instead, concentrate on satisfied needs, like aspects of your health and relationships, to increase levels of gratitude and happiness.
Cultivate your sense of gratitude by incorporating giving thanks into a personal morning ritual such as writing in a gratitude journal, repeating an affirmation or practicing a meditation. It could even be as simple as writing what you give thanks for on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror or computer. To help you establish a daily routine, create a “thankfulness” reminder on your phone or computer to pop up every morning and prompt you.
As a yoga trainer, I enjoy combining the health and wellness benefits of a quick mindfulness meditation with jump-starting my attitude of gratitude. Anyone can practice the same way I do by following these easy instructions: Sit or lie down comfortably in a place where you can remain undisturbed for a few minutes. I generally do my meditation before getting out of bed. Take conscious control of your breathing, lengthening and deepening your inhalations and exhalations. With your eyes closed, draw your attention to something positive in your life that elicits a feeling of thankfulness. For three breaths, use your inhalations to concentrate on what you’re grateful for while using your exhalations to imagine the positive energy of your gratitude radiating through your body. Pause briefly to clear your mind. Focus on another aspect of your life you appreciate and use the same technique for another three breaths. Pause. Repeat the process for a total of three rounds of three breaths each.
Share your attitude of gratitude near and far
Sharing what you are thankful for is a great way to hold yourself accountable and a great way to inspire others. My husband and I put a small whiteboard on the back of our master bathroom door, where we each write three things we’re grateful for every day, knowing that we’ll get to see each other’s lists. As a family, we have a “Good Things” jar on our dining room table with a small notepad and pen next to it. When we experience something family-oriented that makes us happy, we write a quick note and put it in the jar. On Thanksgiving, we open the jar and read the notes aloud. Of course, both of these concepts could be as effective in a work environment as they are at home. If you spend a lot of time with coworkers, consider adding a “Good Things” jar or gratitude whiteboard to the employee break room.
Social media offers a far-reaching platform for sharing your attitude of gratitude. When you post pictures of family, pets, food, etc., make an effort to express gratitude for whatever you post. Be sure to share your gratitude with good intentions – not to be preachy or brag about what you have; otherwise, you negate the benefits. Personally, my favorite social media platform for sharing gratitude is Periscope, which enables live interactive video broadcasts worldwide. I spend 10 minutes every day with people around the world to share the mood-boosting benefits of an attitude of gratitude.
Seek opportunities to express gratitude in relationships
You can’t feel grateful or say “thank you” if you don’t notice the gesture that should elicit your response. An essential step to practicing gratitude regularly is becoming aware of opportunities throughout your day to both experience and express gratitude.
It’s easy to become accustomed to daily services people provide for us, like price-scanning our groceries or delivering our mail. But it’s important to acknowledge another’s effort in making your life easier. This applies to service providers, as well as coworkers, friends and family who look out for our needs on a regular basis. Once you start recognizing these gestures, you can begin to show your appreciation. And studies show that the benefits of thankfulness extend to both the giver and receiver.
As a mutually beneficial practice, gratitude is especially important in romantic relationships. One 2010 study of more than 65 couples in committed relationships found that those who felt gratitude for everyday gestures increased their relationship connection and satisfaction. So noticing and genuinely appreciating when your significant other does little things – like pouring you a cup of coffee in the morning or picking up your dry cleaning – pays big dividends for the health of your relationship.
As such, couples can boost their sense of gratitude and loving connection by showing interest in or participating in activities the other enjoys, such as doing partner yoga with your “yogi” spouse or watching a football game with your armchair quarterback.
Speaking of sports, it may seem surprising, but I integrate gratitude meditation into my work with professional athletes. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that cultivating a sense of gratitude, especially in trusting relationships with coaches, increased athletes’ self-esteem. For athletes, who are constantly being compared to competitors, self confidence is crucial.
Ready to put your new approaches to gratitude into practice? Don’t wait for a holiday – start now.
I’ll begin: Thank you for reading this article. There’s endless content online and your time is limited, so I appreciate your attention and am honored by your interest.
See how easy that was?