Successfully creating a gratitude habit: the science to make it stick

Practicing gratitude improves quality of life, sleep and your desire/capacity to do good in the world. It’s a significant way to gain control over your mood and can be grown into a thriving habit. Studies are clear that when you make time to express gratitude, not only you, but those around you will reap the benefits.

 

create a daily gratitude practice 

How does it work?

Gratitude makes life better. It’s science.

In this 2003 series of studies, researchers found that the more you feel gratitude the easier it becomes, and that those who experience lots of gratitude generally feel better about life.

They studied the reliability and validity of the Gratitude, Resentment and Appreciation Test, a measure of trait gratitude (a person’s predisposition to feelings of gratitude). The study also highlights relationships between trait gratitude, grateful feelings and happiness. In the end, we learn that gratitude begets more gratitude, and it definitely plays an important role in a person’s subjective well being.

Relationship bonus!

In this study, people who wrote in daily gratitude journals (compared to negative or neutral journals) not only felt better about life, but offered more assistance or emotional support to others. It only took a week or two for folks to see significant changes!

What you think about before bed matters!

This study dove deep into the correlation between sleep and gratitude. Practicing gratitude before you hit the hay directly affects “total sleep quality, subjective sleep quality, sleep latency, sleep duration, and daytime dysfunction.” Basically, if you think grateful thoughts before bed, you’ll sleep better, sleep longer and wake up functioning better!


The gratitude habit

While goals and resolutions are great motivators, healthy habits promote sustainable, long-term change. Since 40-45% of our daily actions are habits, rather than deliberate decisions, habits have an enormous effect on how we spend our time and brain space.

Ask yourself the following:

  • When you’re waiting behind 6 people in line at the grocery store, are you impatient or grateful for a little down time?
  • When a friend asks for help moving, does your system register that request as an inconvenience or a marker of solid friendship?
  • Are you derailed or delighted when the parking lot is nearly full except for spot in the very back?

How do you make gratitude an automatic, natural response to life’s circumstances?

Just like any good habit, it takes practice. Just like physical training, studying or learning a new skill, developing gratitude takes commitment and consistency.

It takes approximately 66 days to develop a habit, according to a 2009 study. While the actual number of days varied widely based on the participants (18-254 days), the good news is that long-term consistency matters more than perfection. If you miss a day, just get back on the horse and keep rolling.

 

3 Ideas for cultivating a gratitude habit

1. Write it down

    Start a gratitude journal. You could jot down a note or two in your daily planner or keep a special gratitude notebook on your bedside table. Whatever you do, keep it visible so that you have a daily reminder to write.

    You could also keep track in an app on your phone or post on Facebook. If you do, tag us in a comment to let us know. We’d love to support you!

    2. Get a buddy

      Accountability is hugely helpful in creating lasting changes in behavior. Start this habit with a friend and set a time for a weekly check-in to keep each other on track.

      3. Dedicate a meditation to a loved one

      Dedicating a loving kindness meditation to someone is a great way to improve connection and foster gratitude. You can choose any wording that feels true to you. A classic example is something like, “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you experience ease.”

      As you prepare for a busy holiday season, it’s important to carve out moments for your own health. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling too busy, having a hard time with family or simply having a lot on your plate, but use the simple practice of listing the things you’re grateful for to create some good in the world...or hey, maybe just get a good night’s sleep.

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