This Holiday Season
Harness the Power of Gratitude
Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Physical Therapy, and the authority on how to crush your inner critic so that you can live a life of purpose, fulfillment and True Success™. She’s America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist with over 100 national media interviews. She writes for Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but her medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.
Gratitude is powerful. This holiday season, take the time to slow down and be mindful of life’s many blessings!
Harvard Health defines gratitude as “A thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.”
There are many benefits associated with gratitude including:
· Less depression
· More empathy
· Less aggression
· Stronger relationships
· Healthier bodies
· Greater resilience
· Stronger self-esteem
· Better decision making
· Less turnover at work
· Decreased work-related stress
· Finding greater meaning in work
Intervention studies demonstrate that, when people engage in gratitude practices, they:
· Enjoyed longer and more quality sleep
· Increased their sense of optimism
· Exercised more frequently
· Engaged in more prosocial behavior
Sound good? You bet!
And the beauty is gratitude takes little time and no money to experience.
So, how can you use the power of gratitude for yourself? Here are 12 tips.
1) Identify what you are grateful for
What are you grateful for? Some people think they need to have some major event to experience gratitude. “I would be grateful if I did not have this credit card debt,” for example. In reality, gratitude does not need to be anything big at all.
In my book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, I posed the following question: If you lost it all tomorrow, what would you miss most about today?
The goal of this exercise is to help you see that there are countless experiences, things, people… in your life right now that are meaningful to you.
Here’s a personal example. It was pouring rain the other day, and my dog needed to go out. Now, my dog is not the kind of well-behaved canine who I can just let out on his own. He is way too excited to make new “friends,” with the squirrels, frogs and neighbors that might be walking by. As I was getting on my raincoat and about to grab an umbrella, I commented about not wanting to go out in the cold rain. My husband, who is very ill and unable to walk, looked up at me. And it hit me, how grateful I am to be able to get up and move all on my own. The rainy walk ended up being an experience of gratitude, as I really appreciated being able to take my dog out. I was also quite grateful for the umbrella J
2) Start a gratitude journal.
To create a gratitude journal, write out at least three differs things each day that you appreciate. Don't feel like the things you write in your journal need to be significant or life-changing. Even being grateful for something seemingly simple or small, like the sun shining, counts too!
You can take your journaling one step further. If you are struggling with someone or something in your life, make sure that at least one of your three daily journal entries is related to that person or situation. For example, when I am working with couples who are experiencing marital strain, I ask them to write out at least one thing they appreciate about their spouse every day. This cannot be a backhanded compliment, such as, "he wasn't that lazy today," but rather something that is genuinely appreciated. The results? A shift from what you don’t like about this person to what you like and admire about them.
3) The key is in the feeling
Identifying something or someone you are grateful for is the first step. To get the benefits of gratitude, you want to let yourself fully experience the feelings. Bask in the emotions as you think about what you are grateful for. Really sit with those feelings for at least 30 seconds. This is a great way to boost your positive energy, too.
4) Focus on why
One way to more intensely feel gratitude is to focus on your “why.” By that, I mean, what about the person, experience or entity that causes you to feel grateful.
My teenage daughter and I were joking around the other day, and a wave of gratitude hit me. This is a young adult I helped create, who I love unconditionally and really enjoy hanging out with, and she likes to be with her “old” mother. Laughing at our silliness, cracking jokes that would not be funny to anyone else, getting to spend time together… It was truly incredible when I really took a step back and appreciated such a “small” event.
5) Gratitude, not guilt
I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a time when the statement “finish your dinner; there are starving children in Africa” was not an uncommon piece of parental advice. While part of this guidance was to motivate children to consume their entire meal, there was also a component of what I call guilting gratitude. “You should be grateful for that food because not everyone has something to eat,” was the underlying message.
And yet, guilt does not, in fact, instill gratitude. Yes, considering the blessings that not everyone possesses can help you feel more appreciative, but the concept of “you should feel grateful” causes more shame than actual gratitude.
So, drop the guilt and embrace the gratitude.
6) Say thank you more frequently.
Thank everyone around you, from the people who serve you or those who simply exist in your life. No need to wait until someone does something huge for you. Just the mere fact that your spouse or friend is in your life can warrant a "thank you."
7) Be present.
Many of us are well versed at juggling dozens of different thoughts in our heads at once. It is tough to feel true gratitude when your attention is divided. Take the time to really focus on the person you are with or the event that is happening in the moment. Even if just for a moment, stop to concentrate on how much you appreciate a sunny day, the food you are eating or the person sitting next to you.
8) Schedule "gratitude moments."
We all get so busy with life that even our best intentions do not always come to fruition. To help incorporate more gratitude into your day life, schedule at least a few minutes each day to focus on gratitude.
For some people, doing this first thing in the morning is optimal because it starts their day on a positive note and helps them bring gratitude into the rest of their day. At the end of the day before bed can also be a terrific time to focus on what you appreciated about your day. It is a nice way to review what happened, going to bed on a positive note and can even help you get a better night of sleep.
Another option is to schedule gratitude time, as if it were an appointment. One of my executive coaching clients has gratitude time scheduled twice each day. A reminder comes up on his phone, and he quickly thinks of three things he is grateful for right then. It takes almost no time, which is good because he is so busy, but it really makes a difference. He once told me, “That reminder helps me shift from feeling stressed to feeling grateful. I find that I am actually happier and more productive as a result of these quick gratitude breaks."
9) Have a "happy" meal.
Here, I'm not talking about the kind of happy meal that comes with French fries and a plastic toy, but rather the kind that offers the gift of gratitude. Sit down with family and/or friends for a "happy" meal. Take turns talking about each person and what you appreciate about them. Offer specific examples, such as, "I really appreciate that you took the time to call me after my big presentation, even though you were busy with your work." We are often so good at pointing out what we wish someone else would do differently that this mind shift helps you and those around you feel more connected and loved.
10) Avoid complaining or passing judgment for an entire day. When we judge and criticize others (and even ourselves), we cannot truly experience gratitude. Being nonjudgmental can be difficult for most people, as we often think in judgmental ways without realizing it. Take control of your thoughts and notice the benefits to you and those around you. Once you have become proficient at this, challenge yourself with the 21-day gratitude challenge: No judgment, gossip or criticizing for 21 days!
11) Share the (gratitude) love
In addition to experiencing gratitude, sharing your positive feelings can have a beneficial impact on those around you, as well as your relationships. Research shows that expressing gratitude for your partner, for example, helps boost subsequent positive interactions with each other. So be more open declaring what you appreciate the people in your life. It will help cultivate stronger, more meaningful relationship. And that can translate into an even happier you!
12) Write a letter of thanks. Identify someone who has impacted your life. Perhaps it is an elementary school teacher, an old friend or a family member. Write that person a letter sharing why they are so important to you, what you have learned from them and how they have affected your life. This is not the time to be reserved; really share your heart in the letter. Simply the act of conceptualizing and writing this letter can boost your feelings of gratitude.
For an even more powerful exercise, share the letter with the person to whom you wrote. If you can, visit them in person (perhaps over the holidays) and read the letter to them. If this person is no longer alive, try reading your letter aloud to someone who knew and appreciated them.
Will this feel awkward? It may, but that's OK. As a society, we are not used to such intimate expressions of gratitude. However, research shows that this is one of the most powerful ways to boost gratitude, where the act of doing so is a huge benefit to the reader and the benefactor.
As John F. Kennedy eloquently stated, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." Being grateful: Just because it is easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. Use gratitude to help you have less stress, stronger relationships and a more joyful life!