With Thanksgiving so close, it makes sense to revisit the many benefits of gratitude.
I’ve written about being grateful several times before because I just love how it makes me feel, and how much it improves my life.
But today I want to give you a little bit more-five fun and unique ways you can express your gratitude. Because we all know that we can write down what we’re grateful for, but after awhile that can get a little boring, right?
So how else can we tap into this amazing healing and motivating practice?
Gratitude Has Many Health Benefits
First, let’s review the benefits of gratitude, just in case you forgot!
Studies have found that when we think about all the things we’re grateful for, we experience a number of health benefits. These include the following:
- Greater happiness
- Better health
- Stronger relationships
- Less stress
- Stronger immune systems
- Fewer feelings of loneliness
One study, for example, found that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, and feel healthier than other people. They were also more likely to engage in healthy activities like eating well and exercising regularly.
Other studies have shown that gratitude can reduce your risk of depression. If you’re feeling down, what better solution than to remember what you have to be grateful for? Grateful people are also more likely to be kind to others, according to a study from the University of Kentucky. They felt more empathy and sensitivity toward them, even when others were negative.
Grateful people tend to sleep better, which improves health on a number of levels. (Better sleepers tend to live longer.) In one study, for example, those who wrote down what they felt grateful for before shutting off the lights slept better and longer than those who didn’t.
Being grateful is also a good way to boost your confidence and self esteem. Studies have shown that when we remember what we’re grateful for, we feel less envious of others, and tend to compare ourselves less than we otherwise might. These things can help us feel better about ourselves, and also more likely to be genuinely happy for the accomplishments of others.
Gratitude helps us to better deal with stress. When we frequently tune into our feelings of gratefulness, especially in times of stress or trauma, we become more resilient. A 2003 study, for example, found that people who expressed gratitude were more likely to recover well after the terrorist attacks on September 11th.
Finally, researchers reported in 2013 that gratitude can be a healing force, and “one of life’s most vitalizing ingredients.” They added that it regularly practicing gratitude can have “dramatic and lasting positive effects in a person’s life,” improving blood pressure and immune function, increasing happiness and well-being, spurring generosity and cooperation, and reducing risk for depression and anxiety.
“Whether it stems from the acceptance of another’s kindness, an appreciation for the majesty of nature, or a recognition of the gifts in one’s life, gratitude enhances nearly all spheres of human experience,” researchers wrote. “Some of the best moments in life are those in which we sense we have been the beneficiary of goodness freely and generously bestowed onto us.”
5 Fun Ways to Express Your Gratitude
To help you to experience the benefits of this healing practice more often, try these techniques.
1. Start a Gratitude Journal
Most people prefer to journal rather than simply make a list of things they’re grateful for. Journaling is a more relaxing, personal experience, and you can expand on your feelings in a journal the way you can’t when you’re simply making a list.
Choose a special notebook specifically for this purpose, and then use it every day to focus on those things you’re grateful for. Instead of simply writing, “I’m grateful for my family,” journal about the specific things you noticed that day. Maybe your daughter made you a special picture in art class, or maybe your husband commented on how nice you looked. Maybe your boss complimented you on a job well done, or the sunrise was especially beautiful that day.
Use your imagination and write freely.
2. Create a gratitude jar.
I love this technique. You simply find any empty jar or container. Could be an old glass jar, a plastic jug, or even a box. Decorate it as you wish with colors and words and pictures or even ribbon and wrapping paper.
Create an opening in the top and place the jar somewhere that it’s easily accessible. Then, throughout the month, any time you are grateful or happy about something, jot it down on a piece of paper, fold it up, and put it in the jar. At the end of the month (or the end of the year), pour out all the pieces and review everything you wrote.
This can become a fun activity for the whole family, and a way to bond over your blessings as the year comes to a close.
3. Write a gratitude letter.
How often do you let people know how grateful you are for them?
If you’re like most of us, not as often as you might. It can be fun to write a letter to someone you felt grateful toward but never expressed your feelings to. Or you could write a letter to someone in your family and read it out loud over the dinner table. Or you could write a letter to someone that’s gone and you never got to thank. You may not be able to send it, but just writing it is likely to help you feel good.
You may also want to write a quick email to a co-worker or friend, or send a text message to someone who made your day. Or, write up a review of a great restaurant or other service that took good care of you.
4. Make a gratitude collage.
If you’re not a big fan of writing, this option is for you.
Grab a bunch of old magazines, or pull up your computer and printer. Find pictures that express what you’re grateful for, and either cut them out or print them out. Then mount them to a large piece of decorated cardboard, or simply make an online collage using any program you’re comfortable with. A Pinterest page also works.
You can do this activity with your children. Make it more fun by pulling out the camera or smartphone, then go around and take pictures of everything you’re grateful for before you create the collage.
5. Play a gratitude game.
This is great fun when you have family and friends over.
As your guests arrive, have each of them write down their name and something they’re grateful for. Then have them put that piece of paper in a secure container like a box or covered bowl.
After dinner, have everyone take turns picking one of the pieces of paper out of the container and reading it out loud, while keeping the name secret. Have everyone guess who wrote that statement. The first person to guess right gets a point, and then tally the points at the end and give out prizes if you like.
If you don’t have a lot of people at your party, you can adjust the game by adding additional rounds. Give players a theme for each one, such as work blessings, something about a person in the group, something that has to do with one particular color, something you can see at the moment, etc.
How do you express your gratitude?
SourcesMaia Szalavitz, “Why Gratitude Isn’t Just for Thanksgiving,” Time, November 22, 2012, http://healthland.time.com/2012/11/22/why-gratitude-isnt-just-for-thanksgiving/.Amy Morin, “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude that will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round,” Forbes, November 23, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#c04e4c36800a.Robert A Emmons and Robin Stern, “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention,” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2013; 69(8):846-855, http://ei.yale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/jclp22020.pdf.