With Thanksgiving upon us, I have been reflecting on gratitude and why gratitude isn’t just for Thanksgiving. As this article explains, research within the field of positive psychology has linked gratitude with a stronger immune system, improved sleep, less stress, better physical and mental health, and healthier relationships.
The best part is that feeling grateful does not need to be time-consuming or another chore on your ever-growing list of to-do’s. One of the most widely studied gratitude interventions can take less than 60 seconds a day! Every day, set aside a time that works for you to list just 3 things that you are thankful for that day. These 3 items can range from the mundane (“I’m thankful that I found a parking spot when I was running late for my appointment”) to the more philosophical (“I’m grateful that I have healthy legs that allow me to jog”). The content is less important than the action of taking the time to recognize what you appreciate.
By engaging in this 60 second exercise, you are actually training yourself to look for the positive in the world. Human nature lends itself to seek out the negative– we instantly narrow in on the 1 thing that went wrong as opposed to the 10 that went right. Just by knowing that you have to list 3 things you are grateful for, you will subconsciously look for the good in the world: the kindness of strangers, the beauty of nature, the miracle of existence.
Another great exercise, if you can take out a little more time, is to write a gratitude letter. Dr. Martin Seligman (often called the “father of positive psychology”) suggests writing a letter to a person who has influenced your life for the better. He notes that it is important to be specific about the actions of the person and how they helped you. Next, schedule a time to meet up with this person without telling them the purpose of the visit and read the letter aloud to him or her. While this will certainly make the person feel good about themselves, the greater gift is the one your are giving yourself– Seligman’s research found that people who engage in this activity feel happier and less depressed for a full month after the letter is delivered!
Dr. Talya Stein