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The benefits of practicing gratitude

Main Line Health July 6, 2016 General Wellness By Paula Durlofsky, PhD

Need something to feel thankful for? How about the benefits of being thankful?

The benefits of practicing gratitude are plentiful.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychologist from University of California Davis, discovered through his research that people who regularly practice gratitude by noticing and reflecting upon the things they are thankful for:
  • Feel more joyful emotions
  • Are less anxious and depressed
  • Are more engaged in their lives
  • Sleep better
  • Are able to express more compassion and kindness
  • Have more fulfilling relationships
  • Have stronger immune systems

Along with being grateful for the big things that happen in our lives, experiencing the same level of gratitude for the simple and smaller things that happen to us is just as important and can significantly increase our well-being and life satisfaction. Simply put, gratitude reminds us of the simple joy in just being alive.

As with making any change, having the motivation and stick-to-itiveness to sustain it can be challenging. Below are a few strategies to help with starting a daily gratitude practice and with being able to maintain it:

Strengthen your reflection skills

One of the cornerstones of the practice of gratitude is being able to recognize the things we are grateful for. You can strengthen your reflection skills by noticing all the new things you’re grateful for everyday and then writing them down in a gratitude journal or by putting them in a special gratitude jar or box if journaling isn’t your thing. It’s also important to periodically read what you’ve written to remind yourself of the all things you’re grateful for.

Be specific about what you’re grateful for

Sharpening our gratitude skills also helps with changing the way we perceive situations. Shifting our attention the to positives in our lives--especially when we’re struggling with life’s challenges--opens up our thinking and helps with finding solutions. Gratitude also naturally bolsters feelings of hopefulness and resiliency.

Share your feelings of gratitude

Include the important people in your life in your gratitude practice. You can do this by writing letters to the people in your life who you’re grateful for or by making a point to directly express your feelings of gratitude in person. However you choose to express your gratitude to the people you love, focusing on our relationships enhances feelings of connection and intimacy. And, time after time, studies have shown that our relationships are strong determinants of our happiness.

Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples, and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.