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Grounding in Gratitude: Small Practices for Great Well-being

So often, we turn toward gratitude in November, the month of Thanksgiving in the United States.

But it turns out that gratitude is good for us all year round. Always. And a little bit goes a LONG way toward our health and wellness.

Decades' worth of studies show the tremendous power of even short, simple gratitude practiceslike counting one's blessings, gratitude journaling and writing letters of gratitude to others. These activities, done daily or even weekly, have been proven to reliably boost well-being, resilience, optimism, connection, sleep quality, and more.

Why? Preeminent gratitude researcher Dr. Robert Emmons of University of California, Davis shares that when we regularly count our blessings, we begin looking for and seeing them more. Our brains have less room for negative thoughts. And they help us better recognize gifts we receive from others and any higher power we believe in. They simultaneously anchor and uplift us.

So gratitude is great for us. And it's actually really easy to practice. You can make it a habit in just a minute or two a day, or a few minutes of reflection once a week.

Here are a few of my favorite gratitude practices:

  • GRATITUDE MEDITATION: There are many ways to meditate on gratitude, all lovely and fruitful. Whether you have 3 or 30 minutes, start by coming to stillness seated or lying down. Close your eyes if you like or gaze downward, and take a few deep breaths to land. Once you feel more grounded in the moment, begin to ask yourself: "What am I grateful for?" You can answer slowly, really sitting with the sensory details of each thing and why you're grateful for it for a minute or two (as in this YouTube meditation I recorded a year ago)...or you can do this as a more stream-of-consciousness practice, continuing to ask yourself the question and answering again...and again...and again, until your meditation timer chimes. TIP: If you need some inspiration before meditating, read this stunning Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, a prayer of the six nations of the Iroquois used to open and close important gatherings. It might give you a sense of some of the maaaany things we take for granted each day!

  • GRATITUDE JOURNALING: Each night (or morning if that works better for you!), write down three things you’re grateful for that day. The more specific the better; think of what’s unique to that day and the important details about them. Don't just list a person or thing...list what aspects of that person or thing are special to you now and why. TIP: While you can do this exercise in any journal or on plain paper, I use daily and love this 5-Minute Journal, which keeps me more accountable with a new page each day and prompts pre-printed and inviting me in each morning and night.

  • MORNING GRATITUDE: Nearly all my favorite spiritual guides and teachers have vibrant morning gratitude practices. The officiant who presided over my wedding, for example, wakes up every morning and before even getting out of bed takes several moments to breathe in gratitude for the gift of a new day—to thank the earth, the sun, her bed, her body, her breath, whatever else comes to mind. Here's a beautiful, just 5-minute guided morning gratitude practice by one of my favorite restorative yoga teachers, Julie Ela Grace, which focuses on gratitude for our incredible bodies and all they do for us.

  • GRATITUDE LETTERS: It always feels amazing writing letters of gratitude to special people in my life...I wish I did it more often! Writing gratitude letters is well-documented to boost writers' happiness (and recipients!) and decrease depressive symptoms. Studies suggest that the more detailed the letters, the better—but that even short notes like postcards or Post-Its can have an impact on both author and recipient. And I'm a HUGE fan of practices that actually fit in your life and feel doable! I discovered these Pep Talk Postcards (pictured above) earlier this year and loved how they made the practice feel more accessible when you have a ton on your plate (and friends who've received them have been so appreciative of both the bright, fun designs and the personal notes!).

“If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.” Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy Biologic Psychology Division Head, Duke University Medical Center

Gratitude journal page with prompts


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