How to Cultivate Gratitude
So much of the research on mental health tackles how to decrease negative emotions. This is not a bad thing, as negative feelings such as sadness, anger, and shame can do a lot of damage to our emotional wellness. But reducing negative emotions is not the whole story when it comes to happiness.
A growing body of research has focused on "positive psychology," and this is great to see. Results indicate that it's crucial for us to create and increase positive emotions in our lives as well as decrease negative ones. Creating positive emotions broadens one's ability to see alternative solutions and builds resistance to negative feelings. For example, research has shown that three positive emotions for every negative emotion helps people become more resilient in the face of problems!
One of the most commonly researched positive emotions is gratitude. According to the Oxford dictionary, gratitude is "the quality of being thankful" as well as "readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness."
Research on gratitude tells us that it's associated with relationship satisfaction, improved sleep, better mood, decreased depression, and better social functioning. If this sounds good to you (and why wouldn't it?), here are three ways to cultivate gratitude:
- Journaling. Each day, write down five things for which you are thankful. If you find yourself writing down the same five things each day, you can challenge yourself by designating a new letter for each day. For instance, today you could write down five things that begin with "A" that you are grateful for; tomorrow you could only write down things that start with "B," and so on.
- Apps. A multitude of gratitude apps are available for both Apple and Android users. Many are free, but some incur a cost. Here's a sampling:
- My Gratitude Journal (Android)
- Gratitude Journal (Apple)
- Attitudes of Gratitude (Android)
- Gratitude Journal 365 (Apple)
- Moments of Gratitude (Android)
- Gratitude Stream (Apple)
- Gratitude visits. I love this idea, and I wish I could take credit for it. For this exercise, think of someone you are thankful for who doesn't know it because you've never told the person. Write a letter to the person expressing your gratitude and then deliver it (in person if possible). It will surely increase positive emotions for both of you!
How do you cultivate gratitude in your life? Share your ideas here so others can benefit from your experience.
Young, M. E. (2013). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.