If you search “Science” and “Gratitude” on the internet, you’ll find that institutions from UC Berkeley to Forbes have weighed in, and studies have been published in all sorts of academic journals. The official verdict is in: Gratitude isn’t just a nice sentiment.
Gratitude is GOOD for you.
Among the most powerful health benefits of gratitude are improved immune system function, better physical health, improved heart health, and reduction of stress hormone levels. Improved relationships, especially when you’re expressing gratitude for your partner, seems like an obvious gimme.
It’s easy to read this kind of thing and say “Yeah, gratitude, I’ll remember to be grateful more often! Great idea!” And then? You might be more aware of your blessings for a few hours. You might say thank you to a few more people that day. By next week? Nothing. Life gets busy. We forget. Stress is such a familiar state. It’s easier to find things to complain about.
If you really want to cultivate gratitude, you need to practice. Those things that we practice become easier, more powerful, and more natural as we make them part of our daily routine.
This is Where Writing Comes In.
Cultivate a daily written gratitude practice. Every morning I take a few minutes to jot down at least three things for which I am grateful. They can be simple things: the sunshine, my home, the health of my loved ones, the awesome cup of coffee I’m drinking. I might contemplate for a few minutes on the previous day or the day before me and allow events of my life to bring new gratitude into my awareness. Sometimes I think about the things I have that others don’t. (Those first-world problems? They should be gratitude triggers!)
Write It Out Longhand.
I use a special notebook for my gratitude journal and I take the time to write by hand. Writing engages different parts of the brain than typing. When we write by hand, we tend to be more thoughtful and engaged. We learn more, processing and integrating what we write. It also helps us become better writers by slowing us down and giving space for thought between the words.
Improve the Quality of Your Writing.
Keeping a gratitude journal is great for increasing your perceptiveness. After a few days of being grateful for your house, your friends, your puppy, and your dinner, the exercise becomes more challenging. This triggers the process of thinking outside the box, exercising the creativity muscle.
Schedule Your Daily Writing Time.
Let your gratitude practice do double-duty by limbering you up for your daily scheduled writing. The hardest part about getting started with writing is often just that — getting started. A gratitude journal gives you a simple, clear way to begin every time you sit down to write.
Don’t Keep All This Gratitude to Yourself.
Back on the “good for you” front, take some time to spread your gratitude around. Share it with other people. Find at least three things to thank others for each day, either in person or via phone or email. Even a text message can be meaningful. Thanking others builds relationships, self-esteem, and a positive feedback loop. When you genuinely thank people, it makes them feel good. They’ll naturally want to do more things that will bring thanks their way.
Gratitude, like writing, is a habit. And you get better at both by just doing it. So start today, right now, and write down at least three things you are grateful for. Improving your writing might just be one of them!