By Donna Jones, Crosswalk.com
What if just one habit could change your life for the better?
What if that one habit would also help you grow closer to God, improve your relationships, fortify your health, enable you to sleep more soundly, lessen depression, provide greater mental clarity, heighten your sense of well-being, and improve your overall life satisfaction?
Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it’s not. Studies are clear: Gratitude makes us happier and healthier in virtually every area of life. God knew this long before science confirmed it; perhaps that’s why “thanks” and “thankfulness” are mentioned 133 times throughout the Bible. Still, most of us need a little help learning how to live more thankful. Sure, we are grateful sometimes, but not all the time. Consequently, we rarely feel the rewarding effects of gratitude when practiced every day.
Here are 10 proven ideas for powering up gratitude in your life:
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1. Conversational Gratitude
Most of us readily acknowledge gratitude is good for us. Of course, this begs the question, “Then, why don’t more of us make gratitude a habit?” The answer is complex yet simple: we live in a culture that elevates complaining to an art form. In fact, the average person complains 15-30 times a day. Frankly, it’s easier to focus on what goes wrong rather than what goes right.
A simple way to turn all this negativity around is to become intentional about conversational gratitude. Start integrating phrases like:
“I’m so glad that…”
“I love it when…”
“I really enjoy…”
“I’m thankful that…”
We’re so blessed because…”
Not only will this elevate your conversations but, if you’re a parent, it models how to make gratitude a way of life.
2. Bedtime Gratitude
In their seminal research, psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked people with neuromuscular disorders to make nightly lists of things for which they were grateful. After three weeks, participants reported getting longer, more refreshing sleep.
For the past several months I’ve been practicing this habit. I keep a small journal by my bed, and each night I write down three things I’m grateful for. If I’m too tired to write, I silently thank God for three things about my day.
This small habit has increased my awareness of my blessings and God’s activity in my life. It’s also increased my love for God, my faith in God, and my gratitude toward God. As an added bonus, it’s given me a more peaceful night’s sleep.
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3. Verbal Gratitude
We commonly thank people for holding the door, getting us a gift, or helping out when we’re in need, and this a great start! But have you ever thought about why we routinely thank people for some acts—like holding the door—but rarely thank people who do other acts?
Do we thank our spouse who takes out the trash, a church volunteer who consistently shows up, or an employee who does a great job?
One word: Expectations. We tend to overlook actions we expect—that is, until our expectations aren’t met. Case in point: how did you respond the last time a co-worker did something well? How did you respond when that same co-worker dropped the ball? If you’re like most folks, you barely noticed the first instance and could barely forget the second.
Expressing gratitude over seemingly insignificant actions—even expected actions—increases the happiness of both the person who expresses thanks and the person who receives thanks. One study found that the single most important factor in determining satisfaction is feeling appreciated.
Saying “thank-you” improves relational satisfaction, which in turn, makes us more grateful! Don’t overlook the small stuff. Power up gratitude by telling people “thank you” regularly.
4. Circumstantial Gratitude
Most of us tend to express gratitude over life’s blessings, but it’s challenging to be grateful when circumstances are less than ideal. We’d rather wait to give thanks until our life aligns with our likes.
Yet God tells us in 1Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all things, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Few verses spell out God’s will quite as clearly. Why does God instruct us to give thanks in all circumstances? Is God asking the impossible?
First, notice God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. When we give thanks in a difficulty, it’s easier to get through the difficulty. God instructs us to give thanks in all things not for His benefit, but for ours.
How can we give thanks in an unwanted circumstance? Start by thanking God for His presence in the midst of the circumstance. Acknowledge His sovereignty over the circumstance. Thank God that He provides wisdom for the circumstance. Tell God “thank-you” for how He will use the circumstance.
Thank Him that one day every circumstance will be made right, and every tear will be wiped away.
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5. Gratitude Game
The unexpected death of my friend’s husband left her alone with a disabled son. Wisely, my friend knew she must come up with a plan that would make space for grief, while guarding their hearts from being consumed by it. They needed to find joy somewhere, somehow.
They found it in the gratitude game.
Each morning they walk the family dog (being in nature increases our sense of well-being, which makes gratitude easier). As they walk, they take turns naming something they’re thankful for. Back and forth—mother, then son—each look for the good, and proclaim it out loud.
Here’s what she says of their habit, “If we make gratitude a practice we see God’s blessings in our daily lives, even in the midst of hardship. If all we do is focus on difficulties, we shut ourselves off from seeing God’s beautiful handiwork, His goodness, and His mercy toward us. The more we look for things to be grateful for, the more we see!”
We don’t have to wait for crisis to play the gratitude game. We can take turns saying what we’re grateful for over dinner, on a walk, on a road trip, driving carpool. The gratitude game is a game-changer for everyone who plays.
6. Specific Gratitude
To be transformational, gratitude must be specific. “Thank you for my blessings” doesn’t impact us as deeply as “Thank you for providing my new client,” or “Thank you for helping my daughter make new friends,” or even “Thank you for the trees outside my window.” Generic gratitude doesn’t actually make us more joyful, but specific gratitude does.
To help make gratitude specific:
1. Name the exact behavior you are thankful for
2. Explain how it impacted you
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7. Contagious Gratitude
Attitudes are contagious. Get a group of people together and you’ll quickly notice gripes and complaints produce more gripes and complaints. However, the opposite is also true; when people are consistently exposed to a gratitude “carrier” the more likely they’ll become grateful and thankful, too.
To help make gratitude contagious:
1. Speak positively - ditch negativity
2. Thank regularly - don’t overlook what others do, or how others help
3. Smile frequently - be first to offer a warm smile
4. Express gratitude openly - don’t keep your gratitude to yourself
The result of contagious gratitude won’t happen immediately. Few people show effects of infection overnight; some might even be immune. However, with frequent exposure, most people are not only affected, but also infected, by a person with an attitude of gratitude.
8. Gratitude Journaling
Keeping a gratitude journal is the most widely-recognized way to power-boost gratitude. Studies suggest gratitude journaling one to three times a week may result in more happiness than journaling every day. This makes gratitude journaling easy enough for the biggest skeptic or the busiest person.
Try these proven suggestions for keeping a gratitude journal:
Write down five things for which you are grateful. Writing is key. Don’t do this in your head.
Be as specific as possible. Specificity is key to fostering gratitude.
Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
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9. Intentional Gratitude
Becoming a more grateful person rarely happens by chance. Human nature and cultural conditioning make it easier to focus on what we don’t have, rather than what we do have. Until gratitude becomes second nature, we can power-boost our gratitude by setting a place or time to give thanks. Here are a few suggestions:
Set a reminder on your phone to count your blessings.
Pick a place where you can list three things you’re grateful for each day—perhaps during your devotion time with God, at dinner, or at bedtime.
Make a habit of giving thanks out loud when you pull out of your driveway each morning.
Start your prayers by telling God, “thank you.”
Walk around your home or apartment and notice all have. Tell God “thank you” for His provision.
Go outside. Breathe deep. Look around. Thank God for His creation.
Schedule gratitude into your life and you’ll soon see the benefits of being a more grateful person.
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10. The Gratitude Visit
What if someone you know (or knew long ago) showed up on your doorstep with a heartfelt thank-you letter for some specific way you made a positive difference in their life? How would you feel?
Surprised? Overjoyed? Grateful?
Studies show the gratitude visit, popularized by Dr. Martin Seligman, increases the gratitude of both parties involved to such a degree that high levels of joy and happiness last up to three months following the visit.
Just as visiting a person who’s blessed us powers up our gratitude, so does visiting a place which reminds us of our blessings. On a recent anniversary trip, my husband and I found ourselves near our first home and decided to go a few miles out of our way to visit. Memories flooded our minds, leaving us with a level of gratitude we’d never imagined, and wouldn’t have experienced, had we not visited the place in person.
Gratitude is good for the soul, healthy for the body, refreshing to the mind, and life-giving to the heart. Who wouldn’t want a dose of that?
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