Here at The ONE Thing, we talk a lot about the importance of building habits, because small habits are how we get big results. From drinking more water to meditation, there are a number of tiny practices we encourage people to incorporate into their lives that can create exponentially larger ripples. But what about a habit that can help shift our mindset? While taking the time to go on a walk can be an easy, measurable habit – habits around mindset can be somewhat trickier to tackle. If you’re feeling like you need a quick way to help change how you’re thinking, a great habit to implement is gratitude.
Embracing a sense of gratitude can improve both your mental and physical health. As is the case with adopting a number of positive outlooks, when we try to improve our mental health, , it tends to positively influence other aspects of our lives. We are significantly less likely to participate in risky behaviors or pick up bad habits, which helps us live longer, happier lives.
So what is gratitude and how do you incorporate it into your life?
Harnessing the power of gratitude
According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, gratitude is “a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures.” In the vast majority of psychological research, gratitude is conceptualized as both an emotional or mental state, and as a trait. Essentially, there are times we can feel a sense of gratitude in response to something – someone buys you some flowers or writes you a thoughtful note, for instance. But gratitude can also be a trait, something some of us are more prone to feeling on a daily basis.
But traits can be learned, and emotional states created through specific activities. If you’re wanting to increase your own ability to feel gratitude on a daily basis, try the following:
1. Take time to be present
It may sound corny, but sometimes taking a moment to appreciate the little things is all we need to feel grateful. And appreciating the little things requires being present in a moment. As Ferris Bueller once famously put it, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” While we all spend a lot of time penciling in meetings, email batching, and other obligations, many of us forget to schedule in time where we can just be.
Whenever you’re planning out your time blocks for the week, make sure to set aside a little bit of time each day where you’re allowed to participate in activities that force you to be present in the here and now. Put your phone on do not disturb during dinner time with friends or family, go on a hike out in nature, or try taking a painting class.
What you pick doesn’t matter. What matters is allotting a certain amount of time each day to simply be in the moment.
2. Focus on others
Another great way to find a sense of gratitude is by focusing on others. Participating in what psychologists call “other-oriented community participation” is not only great for the recipients, it can be highly beneficial for us too. Research has long shown the direct correlation between activities that focus our attention on others, like volunteering, and our own improved psychological well-being. In fact, during the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, researchers found the benefits were three-fold. Not only does participating in an other-oriented activity make us feel good, it also makes us feel good about ourselves and others at a higher rate.
When we center our energy on helping others, we focus less on our own hardships and problems, and more on creating a sense of happiness and community for them. This sparks feelings of joy, gratitude, and connectivity between ourselves and those around us.
Instead of sitting in front of the television every night, make sure to set aside some time each week to do something that shifts the focus to others – volunteer, invest time in a mentee, or spend and evening at a community event. Whatever you choose to do, shifting the focus from ourselves to those around us gives us the opportunity to remember how much we have to be grateful for.
3. Write it out
A great way to incorporate a gratitude practice in your life is through writing. Being present in the moment or spending time with others can be great, but reflecting on positive moments can have just as powerful an impact on our happiness. If you’re feeling grateful, write down why and put it in a gratitude jar. Then, if you have a bad day, you can open the jar, select a piece of paper, and be reminded of something you’re grateful for.
Taking time at the end of a day to write down what you were grateful for that day is another wonderful way to incorporate reflection and gratitude into your life. It helps shift the focus from the negatives of the day, and instead zero in on the positive experiences you had.
Sending letters is another great way to share a sense of gratitude. Whether it is a friend, acquaintance, or loved one – if they did something that helped make your day a little brighter, write them a thank you note! In a recent study, researchers found that thank you notes had a much bigger impact on recipients than the note writers ever dreamed. In fact, while we often hesitate to send a thank you card because maybe we’re afraid of how it will be received, recipients actually reported feeling “ecstatic.” These same recipients gave the experience a happiness rating of 4 or 5 on a five-point scale, considerably higher than the senders’ estimated 3 ratings. And we can’t forget the positive impact that telling others how they make us feel actually has on us. Like Chip and Dan Heath share in The Power of Moments, “Expressing gratitude pleases the recipient of the praise, of course, but it can also have a boomerang effect, elevating the spirits of the grateful person.” In other words, telling others what they did to make you happy will help you recapture that feeling of joy, and allow you to reciprocate that feeling with them.
In the era of side hustles and #rise&grind, it can be incredibly difficult to remember to pause and revel in gratitude. But being grateful as a key part of maintaining our overall well-being. If you find yourself busy and the prospect of time blocking big chunks of time overwhelming – don’t panic. Remember, habits don’t have to be big. Start small with something like a gratitude jar or a quick, five-minute moment to thank someone. Once you start building these tiny habits into your day, they’ll grow and blossom into something bigger and more personal.