Got gratitude? Of course! There’s nothing like gathering with loved ones around a bountiful holiday table to make us count our blessings. But giving thanks shouldn’t be something we practice once a year; it should be a vital part of our everyday life. Studies show that gratitude can actually improve your health by strengthening your immune system and making you more resilient in the face of crisis.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that adults who have a grateful disposition are less stressed and more energetic and optimistic than those who do not. Being grateful is good for kids too: Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families, according to researchers at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
So how can you cultivate a grateful disposition every day? “Make a conscious choice to be to more grateful,” says Philip Friedman, author of The Forgiveness Solution: The Whole-body Rx for Finding True Happiness, Abundant Love and Inner Peace and a licensed clinical psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, Penn.
Here’s a four-step plan to help you (and your family) develop an attitude of gratitude all year ’round.
Start a family gratitude routine
It’s easy to jump on the complain-train when things are going south, and it’s tough to find the good in a less-than-perfect day. But counting the positives will pay off, so start a new family tradition, suggests Erika Oliver, author of Happy Crap: Unleash the Power of Positive Assumptions and positive approach coach in Kalamazoo, Mich. Every evening, have everyone in the family share three good things about their day – and do it before you start griping about work or traffic jams.
You’ll soon see that there are plenty of large and small blessings to choose from: You finally connected with a hard-to-reach client, your 8-year-old aced her spelling test, your husband ran into a college pal on his morning commute. Says Dr. Friedman: “If you practice gratitude every day, after a while it becomes second nature.”
Find the sunny side of your stresses
Build your gratitude skills by looking on the positive side of your daily frustrations. Instead of thinking, “I hate all these work deadlines,” tell yourself, “I’m exhausted from work, but I’m blessed to have an interesting job that pays well.” Rather than sighing because you have to rush from a kids’ playdate to a holiday party, say, “It can be stressful having such a full schedule, but we’re so lucky to have all these good friends!”
Consciously shifting your mindset will make it easier over time to be a thankful person. Best of all, it’s contagious. When you maintain a positive attitude, you’ll attract upbeat people and experiences.
Be thankful for things that haven’t yet happened
It’s great to show gratitude for the blessings you have today. Now go one step further by picturing all the good things that still lie ahead, suggests Friedman.
Once a week, close your eyes and imagine that you’re standing on a carpet of gratitude. Then imagine that you’re walking down the carpet past all the wonderful experiences that await you: a dream job, your wedding day, the birth of your child, a trip to Paris. By thanking the universe for blessings in advance, you’ll develop a sense of gratitude even when things don’t seem to be going your way.
Make Some of Your Gratitude Statements Public
Don’t keep your thanks to yourself! Post a gratitude statement as your status update on Facebook or Twitter every week. Examples: “I’m grateful my son got the teacher he wanted for 4th grade. He can’t wait to go to school in the morning!” or “Just enjoyed some yummy risotto. I’m so happy my husband is a great cook!” As Friedman notes, “Your Facebook friends will like and comment on your status, reinforcing your gratitude attitude.”