Whether you have a gratitude journal, you express gratitude to your loved ones on a regular basis or you simply have a gratitude practice that's a little off the beaten path but works for you, you're already in great shape. According to research, the benefits of gratitude are extensive: Practicing gratitude regularly can cultivate positive emotions and even have a positive impact on your physical health.
Robert Emmons, the world's leading expert on gratitude, describes the concept of thankfulness as "an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, and an attitude. It is all of these and more. Minimally, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift."
While Emmons' definition is inspiring, for some people, integrating a gratitude practice into their daily life can feel a little overwhelming. Between anxieties around COVID-19 and juggling work and family life, finding the time and energy to express gratitude often falls to the bottom of the list — especially right now. Luckily, there are a lot of simple ways to get started on this journey and find a gratitude practice that fits seamlessly into your everyday life, no matter how hectic or complicated it is at the moment.
Benefits of gratitude
First things first: Let's talk about just how extensive the benefits of gratitude really are. A ton of research has been conducted on gratitude over the years, and it's time and time again proven beneficial for physical and mental health. Here are some of the top benefits of gratitude:
Grateful people report feeling healthier.
According to a 2012 University of California study, people who practice gratitude regularly report fewer aches and pains and may have stronger immune systems. Grateful people also tend to take care of their health and prioritize things like exercise and regular doctor visits, which could contribute to that improved physical feeling. Regardless of whether this is a chicken or egg scenario, one thing's for sure: Gratefulness helps people feel better physically.
People who practice gratitude sleep better
If you started experiencing insomnia when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, you're not alone — tons of people are having a hard time sleeping right now. And unfortunately, sleeplessness only makes the cycle of unease, anxiety, and poor mood worse. There's sound research to back up the idea that a regular gratitude practice can improve sleep, so try journaling on what you're grateful for a few minutes before bedtime, and see if it improves your sleep.
Gratitude helps with toxic emotions and improves empathy
If you've ever felt jealous of an acquaintance, co-worker, close friend or family member you're only human. As normal as feelings of envy, resentment or frustration are, they can weigh us down and harm our relationships. But according to research, people who have a gratitude practice report experiencing these feelings less. Unsurprisingly, gratefulness also helps strengthen relationships and improves empathy.
Gratitude helps with resilience
If you have a solid gratitude practice, you're more likely to be mentally strong, according to research. This mental strength runs the gamut from reduced stress to full-fledged trauma: A 2006 study found that Vietnam War veterans who who had a gratitude practice had lower rates of PTSD than those who didn't.
Gratitude helps with self-esteem
If you're struggling with negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, a gratitude practice can help significantly with self-esteem, mental health and overall wellbeing. When you regularly remind yourself of all the things you're thankful for, it's hard not to feel just a little better about yourself.
How to practice gratitude
We know the benefits of gratitude are practically endless, but finding a way to express gratitude on a regular basis is easier said than done—especially because, like most thing things, how we show thankfulness is highly individualized. Here are a few methods worth consider.
Try a gratitude journal
Perhaps the most popular method for showing thankfulness, a gratitude journal, can be a notebook you keep by your bedside, or something more "official," like a bullet journal (we're all about gratitude at Silk + Sonder). If you choose to go the gratitude journal route, start by writing down between three and five things you're grateful for on a daily basis. This list can include people (family members, friends, pets, coworkers who lift you up), or more concrete things, like a roof over your head, your job, or your physical health.
When journaling on gratitude, be careful to not fall into the trap of listing the same things every single time. Eventually these will start to feel repetitive and may lose their meaning. While feeling grateful for your loved ones on a daily basis makes sense, writing down "I'm grateful for my loved ones" every morning may lessen the positive emotions that come with this feeling over time. Instead, write exactly what this person does for you on a regular basis to improve your well-being. For example, "the little things" my partner does for me to express his love, like bringing home a bouquet of flowers 'just because' makes me feel seen, safe and secure."
If you're still struggling with the concept of a gratitude journal, try thinking outside the box. At Silk + Sonder, we use "gratitude logs," which are more list-like—but they function in basically the same way.
Consider a gratitude jar
Although not as mainstream as a gratitude journal, gratitude jars are an excellent way to express gratitude, too — and in a lot of ways, a gratitude jar is simpler. The concept goes something like this: Every time you experience a feeling of gratitude, write it down and put it in your gratitude jar. Some people won't reference their gratitude jar again until the end of the year as a New Year's Eve tradition, and others will reference it whenever they're feeling down. How you use your gratitude jar is entirely up to you.
Write a gratitude letter
Sometimes, we're better at doing things (like practicing gratitude!) when it's for someone else. If this sounds like you, write a letter to a loved one explaining exactly why you're thankful for them. You can also write a gratitude letter to yourself, so don't discount that as an option. We're allowed to be thankful for ourselves, too — in fact, that's a pretty awesome option.
We’d love to hear how you’re practicing gratitude during this time. Comment below or join us on Instagram to continue the conversation. And as always, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today for a guided self care journey designed specifically for you.