I am writing this on Thanksgiving, a day that (in the United States) is reserved for family, food, and gratitude. It feels easy to me to be grateful on a day that I don’t have to work and also get to eat a grand feast! Feeling thankful on a day-to-day basis is much more difficult. However, our gratitude muscle is like any other, if we work it out, it will become stronger. And like exercise, science has found that getting the thankfulness muscle in shape can have a positive effect on overall wellbeing. (http://www.breakthroughealing.org/Documents/GratitudeStudy2003.pdf)
Scientists did an experiment where people were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Each group was tasked with recording one of three categories: their gratitude, hassles, or neutral life events. Not too surprisingly, the group that focused on the things they were grateful for had an increase in their overall wellbeing. Because people were randomly assigned to groups, we can assume that the people in the gratitude group, on average, had no greater predisposition to being thankful than any of the other groups. (Though a study has found that some people may have a genetic predisposition towards feeling grateful: http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/9/12/1855)
What this means, though, is that any of us can work on developing our gratitude muscle, though it takes dedication, just like strengthening our other muscles do. In fact, the people who were tasked with writing down things they were thankful for on a daily basis had a greater overall increase in wellbeing than the people who just did it weekly. It stands to reason that if we make it a daily practice to focus on what we are grateful for (through journaling, meditation, quiet prayer, etc.) we will see a greater increase faster. You don’t even have to pay for a gym membership!
Any of us could right now choose to feel better about our lives by choosing to do this exercise. At first it may be difficult to find things to be grateful about, especially if you are going through a tough time. However, as you get “stronger” from daily practice it will become easier to see the blessings around you. Even if it is just silver linings around clouds, acknowledging the things you are thankful for will help you find even more things in your life to appreciate. Focusing on what you are grateful for should not just happen once a year on Thanksgiving. Spending time every day appreciating the big and little things in life can help you feel better overall. I promise you that you will be grateful that you did.