Self, Health And Wellness

Why Practicing Gratitude Improves Your Mental Health, Relationships & Happiness (Plus, 5 Simple Steps To Get Started)

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What Are The Benefits Of Gratitude? 5 Steps For Being Grateful That Will Improve Your Mental Health, Happiness & Relationships

Unless you've been hiding under a very big rock, you've surely heard people speak of the importance of having a daily gratitude practice. And for good reason! There are many benefits to gratitude that can improve every aspect of your life.

What are the benefits of gratitude that make being grateful so important?

In research, gratitude is consistently related to greater happiness, closer relationships, and less mental health issues. Practicing gratitude helps you feel more positive emotions, improves your health, helps you cope with difficult situations, helps you be resilient, helps you build strong relationships and helps you relish in the good things happening in your life, too.

Being grateful has also been shown to increase patience, improve decision making, reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, increase the frequency of exercise, increase self-esteem, decrease depression, improve friendships, make you more optimistic, and make you less likely to abuse substances. That's a lot of benefits!

RELATED: 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude

In case this long list of benefits doesn't convince you, consider these two specific ways gratitude can improve your life.

First, remember that your feelings come from the thoughts you focus on. If you consciously interrupt your day to re-direct your mind towards more grateful thoughts, you'll routinely be in a more positive emotional state.

Secondly, gratitude changes your brain! When you choose to focus on a grateful thought over a non-grateful or more negative thought, you actually start a new neuropathway in your brain.

What does this mean for you? It means that the next time you are in a similar situation, not only is it easier to choose a thought that will generate some of those positive effects just mentioned, it is equally less likely that you’ll get stuck in a downward spiral of negative or critical thinking.

If you're still on the fence as to whether you want to add some sort of gratitude practice to your life, here are three quick questions to ask yourself:

  • How do you feel when you’re thinking about the things that are going well in your life?
  • How do you feel when you think about the things in your life that you love?
  • Do you like feeling that way?

I do. And I know I’m not alone.

When you think about what’s going well in your life and what you love, you are cultivating gratitude. Study after study shows that the more grateful we feel, the better off we are in all aspects of our lives. Are you ready to add gratitude to your life and get some of these benefits?

Like anything else, start small and keep it simple.

Here are 5 simple steps to practicing gratitude each and every day of your life.

1. Know your GTP's

When my family and I sit down to eat together, we tell each other our GTP's — what we’re grateful, thankful, and proud of ourselves for. Because I live with teenagers, there are a couple of ground rules we follow:

  • We don’t interrupt anyone when they’re telling their GTP's.
  • We do this before we get up from the table. Sometimes one of our GTP's will spark a conversation and so we will be all done eating before everyone shared their GTP's. That’s fine. We all get a turn.
  • Our G.T.P's need to be unique. Even if we’re all grateful for the delicious food, only one of us can say that. This encourages reluctant share-ers to go first and, if our GTP was just taken, it allows our brain to look for other things to be grateful for.
  • We need to be flexible. Like any household habit or tradition, I need to be flexible, especially as a mom. If a child asks for us to not do them at a certain meal (usually because a friend is there for dinner), I honor that.

When you’re practicing gratitude routinely, missing a day will not bring you back to square zero.

2. Bookend gratitude

The more you get in the habit of deliberately pausing for gratitude, the more your brain will search for (and find) things that are going well in your life. So start and finish your day with gratitude with a gratitude journal or list.

Before I get started with my work day, I think of at least 3 things I’m happy about (about that day or about life in general). If it’s a weekend, I do it before I finish my coffee. When I lay down to sleep at night, I share three things I’m grateful for with my partner.

Here are several ways you can add these bookends to your life. Choose one and try it for a week:

  • Get a gratitude buddy and decide to text your 3 things to each other morning and night.
  • If you're a single parent (or your spouse is an over-worker), share things you're grateful for with your kids in the morning and when you tuck them in at night.
  • Keep a notebook in your purse and another by your bed to write what you're grateful for in the AM and PM.
  • Get an app and have them keep you accountable (they usually have some sort of reminder system you can set up). A couple you can try: Gratitude Morning, The Gratitude Journal, and the Yellow Notes App.

3. Set a "gratitude alarm"

Set an alarm on your phone that says, "What are you grateful for?" and when it goes off, stop to think of at least two things you’re grateful for right then. Look around.

What is great about your life? Stop what you’re doing, put your phone down, and find something to savor. Look out the window. Is the sky pretty? How does your chair feel under your butt? Slow down to savor the little things in your life.

Gratitude is the number one indicator of whether someone feels joy in their life or not. Get in the habit of gratitude.

My alarm is set for 2:10 PM, and I invite you to join me and we can shine those gratitude vibes out together. It takes 30 seconds (or less) and has profound benefits in all areas of your life.

RELATED: Boost Your Happiness! 7 Benefits From Daily Gratitude Exercises

4. Get out there

In order to be grateful, we must have perspective. What does that mean? Think of how you feel extra grateful for your heated house in the days after your broken furnace has been fixed. Or, think of how you are super appreciative of your healthy teeth after you’ve had the experience of a tooth ache.

This is called "Get Out There Gratitude" because sometimes, everyone around us looks like their lives are rosy perfect (Facebook newsfeed, anyone?!). Don’t be fooled. Everyone is struggling with something. In fact, I’ve found that the fancier or happier their posts appear the worse their reality actually is.

Yet, since the people around you look pretty darn good, get out of your normal area and head to a different area of town. Visiting your local homeless shelter or food kitchen would be a wonderful way to do this but, as it takes planning, often we put it off. Instead, go to a supermarket or coffee shop in a different area of town, preferably one where you know people struggle more financially.

Travel is another great way to gain perspective and thus, increase your gratitude. Not only is your bed super comfortable when you return, you see things when traveling that are not like you are accustomed to at home. If nothing else, turn on a documentary and watch people who don’t have running water. You'll appreciate your water faucet a bit more the next day.

When we direct our brain to look for what we can be grateful for, we can’t look for what there is to not be grateful for.

5. Be a little cynical

This is for those of you who might view the glass as half empty or have a harder time seeing the positives in your day that you feel grateful for. If you're setting up a daily gratitude alarm, this time when it goes off, instead of thinking of two things that you’re grateful for, think of two things that aren’t going wrong right then. Seriously.

Your brain will get to work to look for something that’s not wrong and when it’s doing that, it can’t focus on what is not going well or that is wrong.

No matter how awful my life felt at any given moment, there was always something not going wrong. Even if everything else seems to be falling down around you, what isn't?

It’s time to start some sort of regular gratitude practice and reap the benefits.

It is not overstating the fact that it will change your life. With all of the positive benefits of gratitude (lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better sleep, better relationships), it’s one of the most important components of your overall wellness.

The more you manage your mind to see things in a positive way and stay away from negative unproductive thinking, the more good you bring to this world. It’s not about ignoring things that are going wrong. It’s about moving through those things, while keeping perspective of our inner selves and abilities.

RELATED: People With These 10 Personality Traits Have No Idea What Gratitude Means

Susie Barolo is a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Coach and Podcast host of the weekly Love Your Life Show. Get her Weekly Wellness Newsletter that's full of her favorite tools, products, and support for you to live a life you love!

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This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.