The research keeps piling up: the more you engage in thinking about what you are grateful for, the better off you are. Sonja Lyubomirsky in her really great and interesting book The How of Happiness outlines the 8 Ways That Gratitude Boosts Happiness. You have to get the book for all of the supporting research (it is chock-a-block full of it for the science wonks) and detail, or you can take my word for it (much faster and easier).
- Grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences
- Expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem
- Gratitude helps you cope with stress and trauma
- Expression of gratitude encourages moral behavior
- Gratitude can help build social bonds, strengthening existing relationships and nurturing new ones
- Expressing gratitude tends to inhibit unpleasant comparisons with others
- The practice of gratitude diminishes negative emotions like anger, bitterness, and greed
- Gratitude helps to thwart our natural tendency to experience less happiness from the things we thought would make us happy forever (the new car, the new job).
Do you need more reasons to practice gratitude?
So how to do it? You can keep a journal, you can make a list every night, lengthen your regular grace at meal times, you can tell your friends, choose some for your screen saver. But here is a fun idea: train your Default Network to automatically go to listing all the things you are grateful for. The Default Network is a grouping of pathways in the brain that gets used when you are not thinking about anything in particular. When you are waiting in line, doing the dishes, sitting in traffic. When you are in the default network you might normally daydream, envision the future, comb through memories, ruminate on the day. You have habitual go-to items you tend to think about when in the default network, and the more negative your go-to’s, the more negative you will be. For example you can go to your usual “wow, I really screwed that up, let me dissect everything I did today for what I did wrong” or you can think, “wow, I am so lucky that my house didn’t get ripped away by a tsunami, what else do I have to be grateful for?” and off you go. When you see a long line, you can think, “Oh, how great, I can stand here quietly for a moment and count my blessings.”
It works. Try it. And then everyday can be a Thanksgiving day.
PS You are wondering, what is with the picture of the puppy? Well, he is my daughter’s new Havanese, named Olive and he is the cutest sweetest thing I have ever seen, and we are all very grateful for him. Plus, pictures of really cute baby animals raises the Oxytocin levels in your brain which makes you feel good. Unless you hate puppies. In which case, sorry.