The Practice of Gratitude

By Sarah Ligon, LCSW

Do you ever find yourself chasing the ideal life? The picture-perfect happy life we often see on social media that leaves a pang in your stomach and a wanting for more? I myself am guilty of getting caught up in this race to find happiness from time to time. But what I have realized is, the race to find this idealized state of happiness leaves me feeling drained and frustrated more than anything else. 

Gratitude is a state of being grateful or thankful. With gratitude, we are able to find happiness, contentment, or peace with things that already exist in our lives. Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, has found that practicing gratitude can have positive effects on your psychological well-being, relationships with others, and even on your physical health.  In one particular study Dr. Emmons found that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%!

So, with this knowledge in hand, how do you start the journey toward gratitude?  Me, I wanted to say, “Well of course I am grateful!” but the practice of being grateful doesn’t necessarily come as easily as that. It takes a conscious effort to not lapse into negativity. One of the easiest ways to develop more grateful thinking is to create a gratitude journal. Entries can be done daily or at the end of the week by simply writing down things that happened that you are grateful for. The more specific the better! 

Getting the whole family involved is another way to hold yourself accountable. Creating gratitude jars can be a fun way to teach children the benefits of gratitude in our lives and get them involved in the process. Children can decorate jars that can be filled with spare change at the end of each day. Once the jar is filled the change can be donated to someone in need. Volunteering is also great way to practice gratefulness that can be done on your own or as a family. The ways of practicing gratitude are endless! It’s time to get creative.

As for my gratitude journey, I’m still a work in progress. No, being grateful is not going to magically create an ideal state of happiness. But for me, it has improved my outlook on tougher days and helped me to notice the smaller things that I may have overlooked before. I truly believe gratitude can change us if we take the time to cultivate it! 

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