Q: People who are grateful seem to appreciate life and be much happier, regardless of their external circumstances. This time of year, and after what we’ve all endured during the COVID-19 pandemic, practicing gratitude seems especially important and especially difficult. What’s your advice on how to practice gratitude?
A: It is absolutely true that counting your blessings each day has been shown to significantly increase your happiness and even your physical health. In addition to helping you get more sleep, practicing gratitude can boost your immunity, build relationships and connectedness, and positively improve your mental health.
“Even though simply thinking of what makes you grateful in life sounds easy enough, you should actually treat it like a muscle you’re building or a new habit you’re forming,” says Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic Health System psychologist. “Your goal should be to move your mind to thinking about gratitude occasionally to making it second nature in your life. Eventually, your threshold will lower so that you feel grateful for the little things in life, and your perspective will be one of openness to the good things as well as bolstering you for when the challenges do arise. Eventually, you may even be able to cultivate gratitude for the challenges in life, as that is when we grow the most.”
To get started this holiday season, ask yourself these questions to set your focus and mindset:
- What do you want to be thinking about when you face the upcoming holiday season?
- What would you like to remember about this holiday season after it’s done?
- If you knew this was your last holiday season, what would you prioritize?
- What barriers to joy and happiness will you face during the upcoming months?
- What options do you have for overcoming these barriers?
Then incorporate daily practices to ensure you mindfully incorporate gratitude into your daily life, such as:
- Think of one thing or person you’re grateful for when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night.
- Use meditation as an opportunity to practice gratitude. Take a few minutes each day to close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly, and focus your mind on positive thoughts.
- Make a gratitude jar. Keep an empty jar, scratch paper and a pen in an accessible place at home. Ask family members to write on a piece of paper one thing that they’re grateful for every day and drop it in the jar. Find time to collectively take a few of the notes out of the jar and enjoy reading one another’s thoughts.
- Notice the things around you that you would miss the most if they were gone. This may include small things like a hot shower, a warm garage or a car that runs, as well as the bigger things, such as your child’s laughter, the house you live in, and the friend who sent you a text.
- This list of practices is exhaustive. It is the intentional focus that creates lasting change.
Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D.
Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System psychologist.