One Simple Practice Can Increase Your Life Satisfaction Every Day

What if you knew there was one tiny thing you could do to make yourself healthier, both physically and emotionally?  What if there was plenty of scientific evidence that this one-minute habit would have a giant positive impact on your life?  Would you want to do it?

Guess what?  There is such a practice, and you can start doing it now.  There's nothing to buy, no app to download, and no class to take.  The behavior is gratitude, and it's simple and effective.

thank you note

Why do we need gratitude?

Like every other living thing on our planet, our brains evolved with two major purposes: survive and reproduce.  And they're really good at it.  Our brains keep us connected to the world and each other, and they constantly alert us to what's wrong and what we need to fix.

That's right – our brains gather information about our environment through our senses, staying hyper-aware of anything that could pose a threat.

The trouble is that we're prone to think about all the things that could go wrong and cause us harm.  We tend to replay our failures over and over so they don't happen again, and we're even good at imagining the bad things that might happen in the future so we can start working out how to prevent or fix those things too.

With all of these worrisome, negative feelings swirling in our brains, we're pretty good at making ourselves miserable.

But gratitude is a tiny tool with a lot of power.  It can shift our focus from all of that negative stuff so we can start paying attention to the good things in our lives.  When we make gratitude a habit, our brains and bodies can quite literally be transformed.

The impact of gratitude

Research shows that gratitude helps you relish positive experiences while reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.  It can help you build strong relationships, become more resilient against adversity, and even reduce physical pain.  A regular practice of giving thanks can make you more productive, improve your sleep, and have a positive impact on your overall health.

In short, gratitude is an essential ingredient for a happy life.

Does this seem too good to be true?  The science is crystal clear.  When you express gratitude (or receive it), your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals that make you feel good.  The effects of dopamine are short-term, and assist with feelings of pleasure and motivation.  Serotonin has more long-term effects, and not only creates feelings of satisfaction and well-being, but promotes good digestion and quality sleep.

Here's the really cool part:  With regular gratitude practice, your brain starts to create more pathways for those happy chemicals to flow through.  Studies using fMRI reveal that this habit changes the structure of our brains, helping to regulate our moods, immune systems, attention, and decision-making.

6 options to make a gratitude practice work for you

Gratitude is a simple idea, but it's not always easy to maintain.  And while one small moment of gratitude can pack a positive punch, it's the regular practice of thankfulness that will actually change your brain and your life.

1.  Gratitude journal

Writing down a few things you're grateful for is one of the easiest and most popular practices out there.  While thinking about what we have to be thankful for is good, writing it down is even better.  When we write, we help ourselves slow down and reflect on the 3-5 things that made our day.  Writing sharpens our focus.  And the journal we create in this way makes for great reading when we're feeling stressed or burdened.

You can free-form your journal, but if the idea of a blank page makes you nervous, try some of these prompts to get started:

  • 1 thing that pleases each of my five senses
  • 3 beautiful things I saw recently
  • 1 person who has supported me in a difficult time
  • 1 past experience that I'm grateful for today
  • 3 good things I often take for granted
  • 1 happy memory
  • 3 delightful things I experienced today
  • 1 person I need to thank
  • 3 activities that bring me enjoyment
  • 1 lesson I'm grateful I learned

2.  Text buddy

Gratitude is almost magical in any form.  But the act of sharing our gratitude with another person increases the positive emotional benefits of this already powerful practice.

Take advantage of this boost by partnering with a friend or family member.  Every day, at a designated time, both you and your buddy will send a text message sharing 1-3 things you're thankful for.  This can be basic, like "I'm thankful for the sunshine today," or more meaningful, such as "So-and-so was very supportive about my presentation today."

The extra accountability of this practice can keep you going when your gratitude practice seems "boring," plus the positive connection will strengthen your relationship.

3.  Thank you notes

Since sharing what you're grateful for is so valuable, and the act of writing makes it thoughtful and specific, combine the two for even more benefit.  Choose a time each week to write a short thank you note to someone who has helped or inspired you.  This could even be a person from your past that you're no longer in touch with.  Write down what you'd thank them for if you could.

This isn't just a good exercise for yourself, of course.  The notes you can mail are going bless the recipients – people who might not have any idea that they've had such an important effect on you. 

4.  Social media challenge

So much of social media is about comparison, competition, and complaining – but you can change that.  Choose any week or month for your challenge, invite some friends to join, and get posting.  You can use a photo, a quote, a caption, or an anecdote to express your appreciation for someone or something in your life.

If you're on social media anyway, take this opportunity to challenge your community to fill their feeds with gratitude, kindness, and joy.

5.  Dinnertime or bedtime ritual

If you're used to saying grace before meals, you may already practice this to some extent.  It can sometimes be hard to connect to family members, especially if we're all busy and going in different directions.  But when we do share a meal or a bedtime, we have a chance to get all the mood-boosting and stress-reducing benefits of a gratitude practice.

Have each person share 1-3 things they're grateful for.  So simple, but it adds a positive spin to the meal or a happy and relaxing way to ease into sleep.  In the beginning, you might need to help your kids and prompt them with ideas.  But over time, they'll catch on.  Children thrive on ritual, so once this practice gets going, they may be more motivated to keep it going than you are!  What a fantastic habit to build into their lives from an early age.

6.  Gratitude jar

Here's another way to get the whole family into a gratitude practice.  Designate a jar to collect notes of gratitude (you can decorate it if you want to).  Once a week (or whenever the sight of the jar prompts you), take a moment to jot down something you're grateful for.  It can be a small joy, a meaningful interaction, a personal accomplishment, or something else.  As the jar fills, you'll create a visual reminder of all the positive aspects of your life.

It's fun to plan an annual ritual when you dump out the notes and take turns reading them one after another.  Enjoy and reminisce about all of your blessings on Thanksgiving Day, New Year's Day, your wedding anniversary, or another day of significance.

Make gratitude a habit.

As with any new habit, you need a plan to get started and keep going.  If you want to reshape your way of thinking and gain all the mood-boosting benefits of gratitude, it needs to become your default behavior.

So decide:

  • exactly what you're going to do
  • when you're going to do it
  • where you'll do it
  • which activity you're already doing that you can tie it to (morning walk, coffee break, dinnertime, bedtime, etc.)
  • materials you need (if any)

Set up your routine and see for yourself if focusing on what's good can bring health, serenity, and satisfaction to your life.


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