Cultivate Gratitude for a Happier Life

By Allison Kauffman, Director of Sales, RiverWoods

What are you grateful for? Many of us are grateful and thankful for our family and friends. You may also be grateful for the home you live in or the food you are able to provide to your family. Have you ever tried making a list of all of the things you are grateful for? Several years ago I was a program director for a children’s after school program. I asked the kids to each make a list of things they were grateful for. I expected the lists to be very similar and for the most part, they were. However, on each list, there tended to be one answer that was unique to the child. For example, one child was grateful for their brother picking them up after school so she didn’t have to walk home. One child was grateful for their dog protecting their house. And one child was grateful for their neighbors who helped support them during a recent flood.

Gratitude is being thankful and appreciative. According to Harvard Medical School expressing gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Also, psychology research shows gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.

When my sister and I were little, we were consistently taught to always say thank you to anyone who did something to help us. But thinking about what we are grateful for shouldn’t just be one day a year, such as Thanksgiving. We should express gratitude throughout the year to live a happier life.

Studies also show that gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always wanting something more, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until a material need is met. For example, I wish I had an in-ground swimming pool at my house. However, I can still enjoy my summer without it. Also, I’m happy for my sister who recently got one for her own family. I wish I could afford one too, but I can’t at this time and I am okay with that.

Gratitude helps people focus on what they have in life, instead of what they wish they had. Here are some ideas for making gratitude an important part of your life.

Keep a list of what you are grateful for– You can hang the list on the refrigerator or it can be private in a journal…whatever you prefer. You can refer to your list when you need a reminder or need to refocus on gratitude.

Count your blessings– Similar to keeping a list, you can pick a time each week to reflect on what you are grateful for. You can choose a number of things you are grateful for at the same time each week. For example, each week I will name five things I am grateful for. Sometimes the list will be the same and other times it may change, depending on what is happening in your life that week.

Learn to live in the moment– Savor adventures with friends and family. When out to eat, savor each bite of a delicious item you selected from the menu to really enjoy it. If visiting family, put your phone down and really focus on talking with your loved one who you don’t see regularly.

Don’t compare yourself to others– This one can be a challenge! My girlfriend is always on vacation somewhere amazing. I am happy for her, but sometimes I catch myself wishing I could afford to do all the things she does. This will actually keep you from being more grateful in life. Comparison will just take you away from your goal of living with gratitude.

Spend Time with those less fortunate– There really is nothing quite like the feeling of helping others improve their lives. You will feel good giving back and also value what you have in your life. If you spend time with a resident in a nursing home who doesn’t have a family, you will feel blessed about the family you have and also the resident will be happy to have a visitor. It’s a win-win situation.

There are so many ways to live with gratitude in your life, but it’s something you must work on to live in the present. Reverend David Dearing, Chaplain at RiverWoods Senior Living Community, also feels faith and prayer contributes to living your life with gratitude. He said, “A prayer of thanksgiving daily will cultivate an attitude of gratitude in one’s life.”

Another way to cultivate gratitude is through meditation. Buddhist monks begin each day with a chant of gratitude. You can try it yourself. Find a quiet place and sit or lie down and relax. Experts say you should breathe naturally, close your eyes and allow your heart rate to slow. Then you can begin the practice of gratitude by feeling and acknowledging what brings you happiness and gratitude. Meditation classes are available through our wellness programs at RiverWoods and Normandie Ridge Senior Living Communities along with our LIFE sites at Lycoming, Lancaster and Lebanon. The health benefits of meditation can be far reaching and beneficial for all ages. Gratitude Meditation can be done in a group or in the privacy of your own home.

So as you enjoy the holidays with family and friends, take time to cultivate gratitude in your life. Research says it will not only make you happier, but also healthier!

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