In his book Thanks!, professor and gratitude expert, Robert A. Emmons, says there is overwhelming evidence that practicing gratitude is good for us. Gratitude is positively related to things like life satisfaction, vitality, happiness, optimism, and hope, he says. Wonderful benefits like these can benefit adult children and aging parents alike. Yet, how to start?
Here are five of the 10 ways that Emmons suggests to build your “gratitude muscle:”
1. Keep a gratitude journal. Emmons’ research shows that this technique makes people happier! In your daily journal, simply write the events, people, and personal attributes for which you are grateful. It doesn’t matter if this is done in the morning or at the end of the day. He explains that translating our thoughts into words is powerful because it helps us integrate our experiences more fully. Interestingly, Emmons has found that becoming aware of our blessings gives us more to be grateful for, probably because our ability to notice them sharpens.
2. Watch your language! Emmons mentions the Whorfian theory from the 1930s, one which says that the language we use shapes the way we see the world. Taken one step further, the view is that our words create our reality, he says. Grateful people have a particular linguistic style: One of thankfulness. They use language associated with gifts, givers, blessings, fortune, fortunate and abundance.
3. Awareness of the physical body. “For millennia, poets, philosophers and physicians have praised the miraculous and beautiful nature of the body,” says Emmons. Almost 80 percent of his research participants say they are grateful for their own health or that of a family member, making a well-functioning body the most cited topic of gratitude. Body-related blessings such as these appeared in participants’ gratitude journals: Good health; exercise; ability to breathe.
4. Use visual reminders. The author discusses the many visual cues he has at home to remind him to be grateful, like a ceramic plaque that says, “Give Thanks” in the entryway, and a paperweight with the words, “Gratitude can turn a meal in to a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” He also recommends hanging out with grateful people, because they remind us by example to be grateful.
5. Go through the motions. In the same way that smiling makes people feel happier, when you express gratitude, you feel gratitude, says Emmons. What is a grateful motion? Say thank you. Write a gratitude note. He suggests taking the time to express gratitude to someone you’ve never properly thanked, saying it can have profound, positive impact on both giver and receiver. Perhaps there are words of gratitude you’d like to share with your spouse, your parent or your adult child.
Which strategy resonates with you so that you can begin to experience the benefits of gratitude?