by Valerie Reiss
You've heard it so many times it may not even register anymore: "Count your blessings." But when you actually take a moment to think about what you're glad for in your life, it feels good, right? Turns out it's not just a fleeting feeling; studies show that regularly naming the things you're grateful for may help boost your mood, enhance your immune system, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep, among other benefits. But how do you do this, exactly? Check out these proven ways to invite more gratitude into your heart, health, life, and spirit.
Like anything else worthwhile, gratitude takes practice. And most experts recommend practicing by writing it down. A daily gratitude list or journal in which you jot down five things each morning can be a great help. Or you can find a gratitude buddy you email or text every day. Some people keep a gratitude jar. If you're a devout non-writer-down-er, try numerating your gratefulness each night before dinner, or counting blessings instead of sheep at night, naming the best stuff as you drift off.
Gratitude studies have revealed that details make it stronger. Instead of listing "my health" and "my wonderful family," try something like: "being able to hike on Saturday without getting out of breath" and "eating my sister-in-law's delicious veggie lasagna." This will help train your brain to seek good—a helpful, neurology-altering talent, especially if you're prone to seeing what needs fixing.
Sharing your gratitude can benefit both you and the person you're thanking. On a regular basis think of people to write little grateful notes to, and again, be specific, thanking people for an action or simply for who they are to you. The recipient can be a friend or a relative, a politician or an author—someone who has moved you. Make sure it's simple and sweet—all about them, a small, potent word-gift from your heart to theirs.
If you're feeling down and your head is filled with negative thoughts, it's time for a gratitude intervention. Even if it's not your regularly scheduled gratitude time, grab a piece of paper (real or digital) and write down five things you're thankful for in vivid, specific detail. Maybe it's about finding the gem in a lousy situation: "I'm so glad for the nurse who cared for my mom with such tenderness." Maybe it's about noticing the one good thing that happened that day: "The sun was shining right in my window all morning."
Remembering joyful life events and savoring how they make you feel imprints them in your emotional brain. The next time something wonderful happens—a vacation, a fun day with a friend, a spectacular visit to nature—write it down soon after. Note exactly what made you so thrilled. You'll get to re-live it while you write it and you'll have specific memories preserved that you can look at when you need a boost.
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