The benefits of practicing gratitude

Improve your mood and shift your negative thoughts to feelings of overall happiness with simple gratitude exercises.

The new year is fast approaching and many of us will be making resolutions for 2018. If you’re looking for a personal goal that has the potential to relieve stress and shift your negative thoughts to feelings of more happiness, consider practicing gratitude. 

According to the book, “Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions,” one of the most effective ways to improve your mood and overall happiness is to work towards focusing on what’s going well in your life and what you are grateful for. Research done by psychologists has shown that people can feel happier and are more satisfied with their lives by practicing the following gratitude exercises: 

  • The 3 Blessings Exercise – Before going to bed at night, designate some time to write down at least three things that went well for you during the day. The things you write down do not necessarily have to be big events or major feelings. Even small and/or ordinary things like remembering how the sun was shining during the day or the appreciation you felt when you received a card in the mail from a friend will increase your appreciation and memory of your blessings.
  • Acts of Random Kindness – Look for ways to help and/or give to others without expecting something in return. Suggestions include sending a note or gift to someone who needs some cheering up, helping someone carry their groceries to their car, letting people cut in front of you in the check-out lane.
  • Write a testimonial of thanks – Think of someone who was especially kind to you or that has had a major impact on your life. Express your appreciation by writing this person a letter, giving examples of what he or she has done for you. Hand deliver the letter, in person. If the person is no longer living, give the letter to a family member. 

Practicing gratitude takes time and commitment and may feel awkward at first (it can take up to 2 weeks to retrain your brain to notice the benefits of your positive thoughts and experiences). The important thing is to be patient and keep trying. Michigan State University Extension offers programs, such as Stress Less with Mindfulness and RELAX: Alternatives to Anger that focuses on using your mind to improve stress and chronic conditions. For more information, contact your local MSU Extension office.    

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