I’m sure you know that heart-centered feelings, like gratitude and appreciation, can bring about beneficial physiologic changes in your body in a very short amount of time. But did you know that practicing gratitude and appreciation can make you healthier, smarter, and more energetic?
After years of studying gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, found that people who practiced gratitude daily (for example writing in a gratitude journal) reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy than those who didn’t.
I remember years ago, my father said to me, “Gratitude is the first thing forgotten.” I’ve witnessed this many times in my own life—even in so-called spiritual individuals. With the stress and intensity of today’s world, it’s easy to forget to say thank you. Because we are all connected, this has much farther-reaching implications than you might realize.
Imagine if 1,000 normally negative or critical people practiced gratitude and human-kindness for just one day. The ripple effect could touch hundreds of thousands of people—and literally uplift countless individuals.
So here are three easy ways to practice gratitude every day:
1. Create Gratitude Touchstones.
Write your favorite memories or peak experiences on index cards and keep them close at hand as gratitude touchstones. Here are a few examples: your spouse, your sleeping child, a beautiful place in nature, a favorite pet, an exciting trip, a special moment with a friend.
2. Make a list of all the people in your life for whom you are grateful.
Who helped or supported you in 2013? Start with the easy ones, like family, friends, work colleagues, wait staff at your favorite restaurant, and close advisors. Let the list expand organically.
As you begin to picture the more minor players in your life, like the person on the end of the customer support hotline or the random person who smiled at you while you were at your favorite coffee stop, you may be amazed by how much help and support you have in your life.
Note: You can do the same exercise for the things you are grateful for. Don’t forget things that are easy to take for granted like heat, electricity, and clean water.
3. Appreciate yourself for all that you are and all that you do.
Take a moment right now to look back and acknowledge how far you’ve come since last year. (You can do this for shorter intervals, too.) Journaling is a great way to keep track of this kind of information. The point is to update your “self-appreciation circuits” regularly and genuinely. It’s easier to go negative! Don’t do that to yourself.
Right now, take yourself into your heart and acknowledge your good traits, what you’ve accomplished this year, and the positive ways that you’ve grown. Recognize the ways in which your presence on planet Earth actually helps and supports others.
Practicing gratitude for as little as 15–20 seconds, can lower stress hormones, increase the flow of oxygen to every cell of your body, and harmonize your heart’s rhythms with your body’s other systems.
If all of this happens when you focus for just 15–20 seconds on something that brings you pleasure, joy, or a feeling of gratitude, imagine what would happen to your health—and our world—if you were able to cultivate and express gratitude and appreciation on a regular basis. That’s pretty powerful stuff.