The holidays are often the time of year when we think about all the things for which we are grateful. They can also be a time of stress. However, according to Mica Togami, manager of spiritual care and education at Sharp Memorial Hospital, actively practicing gratitude can improve our lives year-round.
"We need to be aware of our own expectations — doing more doesn't necessarily mean happiness," Togami says. "Creating meaningful moments, which can take just a few seconds, by truly recognizing another person or recognizing the good things in our lives each day, can benefit us in endless ways."
In fact, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis, gratitude can improve emotional and physical health and can help to strengthen relationships.
They discovered that those who practiced gratitude regularly reported that they:
- Felt generally positive about their lives and optimistic about the future
- Exercised more regularly
- Experienced fewer negative physical symptoms and illnesses
- Were more likely to make progress toward reaching personal, academic and professional goals
- Felt more alert, energetic, enthusiastic and attentive
- Noticed improved moods, greater self-esteem and higher levels of positive emotions
- Had a better sense of feeling connected to others
- Experienced better quality sleep
- Were more empathetic and more likely to help others
- Experienced less negativity and improved resilience in trying times
Togami says that gratitude can be practiced in a variety of ways, both small and large. You can reap the benefits by acts as simple as posting something on social media that you are grateful for, sending a thank you note or sharing a moment — such as witnessing a beautiful sunset or seeing a baby's smile — with a loved one.
Many have found that keeping a daily journal of the things you are grateful for is an easy way to practice gratitude. Find a special journal that inspires your desire to write, choose a time each day to write in it and practice finding new things to add to each entry. For example, you may be grateful for your partner or kids every day, but take notice of the little things your loved ones do that bring you joy, or small moments that make you feel good and add them to the journal.
"If we look at each day and all the little moments within it as a gift, our lives will improve in a variety of ways," says Togami. "Make the holidays about the things you are grateful for rather than the things you want to receive or tasks you must accomplish, and you may be surprised how you will find you need less and appreciate more."