“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gratitude is a powerful tool. It can help improve emotional well-being, strengthen relationships, and provide comfort during challenging times … and this year certainly has been challenging! But as we all know, life is full of unexpected detours. Navigating them can result in joyous experiences, but it can also test us. Incorporating a practice of gratitude into one’s life can be tremendously helpful. The question is: how can we do this effectively?
Psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons identified two parts of gratitude that may help you cultivate this feeling. The first part is simply acknowledging the good in your life—your loved ones, your home, the natural world, and opportunities you’ve had. This can be thought of as the inventory phase, when you are simply taking stock of your life. Some families include this exercise in their holiday traditions—sharing one thing each person is thankful for before digging into Thanksgiving dinner, for example.
The second part of gratitude that Dr. Emmons recognizes transcends the individual and helps connect us to the world outside of ourselves. By acknowledging that some of what we are thankful for is beyond our control, we are better able to understand and feel the magnitude of the gifts we’ve been given.
Taking time to be grateful is something that requires no money and little effort—just a moment to reflect. Some people may benefit from setting aside a half-hour of their day to journal about what they are grateful for, while others may prefer to reflect through prayer. Expressing gratitude can also take the form of social interaction—sharing a kind note with someone who has helped you or giving a call to a loved one for whose relationship you are thankful.
As with any practice, the impact of your gratitude will grow as you continue to engage with it. At first, finding things to be grateful for may be an act you undertake consciously, but the more time you put into cultivating gratitude, the easier it will be to see.
Life can be hard, but being grateful is courageous. In the face of inevitable and often unexpected challenges, to look for and accept the goodness in the world is a powerful and transformative act.