Gratitude Part 1: What is it and how do I include it in my life

Gratitude is an amazing emotion! Discover what it is and how to include it in your life.

Have you ever heard others talk about gratitude, but you’re not really sure what it is? You’re not alone. In this series of Michigan State University Extension articles, we’re going to explore what gratitude is and ideas for including gratefulness in your life, how to write a gratitude letter, health benefits of gratitude and the differences between gratitude and thankfulness.

Gratitude is an emotion expressing an appreciation for what one has, as opposed to what one wants, according to Psychology Today. Furthermore, Harvard Medical School offers that gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what one receives – tangible or intangible – as they acknowledge the goodness in their lives.

It’s simple! To be grateful you just need to consider what you have in your life that you appreciate and intentionally acknowledge that. If you’re someone who feels like it may not really be that simple, let’s prove that it can be that easy.

The best part about gratefulness is that you can use it on yourself and others. Everyone can do it – kids and adults! Regardless of any label (mom, boss, volunteer, old, student, etc.) you may put on yourself or others, when you choose to appreciate the things you have in life, you can integrate gratefulness into your life.

The University of Minnesota offers ten tips to fit gratitude into your life.

  • Every day, say aloud three good things that happened. This can be a fun activity to do with your kids when you tuck them in, or around the dinner table with family, but it’s also extremely powerful to express gratitude aloud when you’re alone.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Jot down the small things from your day that mattered to you, like the few minutes of quiet time you had on your drive to work, or the fact that this afternoon’s rain storm didn’t flood your basement. If you’re having a particularly rough day, you can look back through the pages of accumulated blessings in your life.
  • Say thanks to your partner. Couples who express gratitude toward one another set up a powerful feedback loop of intimacy and trust, where both partners feel as if their needs are being met.
  • Cool a hot temper with a quick gratitude inventory. One of the quickest ways to dispel the energy of a stormy mood is to focus your attention on what’s good. So when you’re about to lash out at someone, take a moment to do a quick inventory of five things you’re thankful for in the moment. It could be your good health, clean air, or even the recent switch to a cheaper cell-phone bill—these details will help you relax and avoid saying something you’ll later regret.
  • Thank yourself. Gratitude doesn’t always need to be focused on what other people have done for you! Make sure you give yourself a thank-you for the healthy habits you’ve cultivated in your own life, such as eating plenty of veggies or giving yourself enough time for rest each night.
  • Use technology to send three gratitude messages a week. Find yourself tethered to your cell phone or the internet for hours each day? Harness the power of this technology to send out some good vibes, such as a text or Facebook comment, to tell your friends why you appreciate them.
  • Savor the good moments. If you notice you’re feeling happy, stop what you’re doing and pay attention for a few minutes. Notice exactly how you feel, including the sensations in your body and the thoughts you’re having. Later, when you’re trying to inspire gratitude, you can remember this moment and experience the benefits all over again.
  • Check for silver linings. Even the most difficult life challenges come with some benefit—you just have to look to find them. Being sick draws the compassion of friends. Making a mistake teaches you a lesson. When things feel hard, ask yourself: What’s good here?
  • Look outward, not inward. Robert Emmons says people are more likely to feel grateful when they put their focus on others, rather than getting caught up in their own inner narratives about how things should have gone. Empathy for others can trigger a sense of gratitude, and people who have an outward focus tend to experience stronger benefits.
  • Change your perspective. If you struggle to come up with something to feel grateful for, put yourself in the shoes of someone who is experiencing misfortunes greater than your own. Recalling a colleague who has a debilitating physical condition, for example, will inspire gratitude for your own healthy body, which you may have taken for granted otherwise.

It’s pretty easy after all! And the key to gratefulness is simple too – it’s practice. The more you integrate gratefulness into your life, the easier and more routine it will become. It won’t take long for you to notice a change in yourself and others.

Other articles in series

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