We all want to be happier.
Heck, that’s why many of us started writing: we want to build happier, more balanced lives that don’t involve slogging through the rat race every day.
But happiness can feel elusive—no matter how much you have or how well you’re crushing it in your career, there’s often something that feels like it’s lacking.
Breaking the cycle of discontent can be tough—we’re conditioned to always want more, and ambitious and energetic people are especially likely to always be striving for something new, different, and better.
One way to short-circuit the hamster wheel of discontent and start feeling happier right now is to practice gratitude.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a mindset. It’s a conscious and deliberate decision to be thankful for everything that’s good in your life.
Instead of looking for some amazing opportunity or great success down the road, gratitude says that everything is pretty good here and now.
Basically, gratitude says “the grass is greener right here.”
And this attitude is about way more than just happy, shiny feelings and singing “Kumbayah” around a campfire.
Practicing gratitude and being thankful for the good things in your life can improve your health, wellbeing, relationships, and even your work.
Being more grateful can help you feel better, both mentally and physically.
That’s because your mind plays a huge part in how your body reacts—being grateful makes you less stressed, which means there’s less strain on your vital systems.
People who practice gratitude are more likely to be healthier and to exercise more, eat better, and generally take better care of themselves. Some studies are linking gratitude to improved health, especially in older adults.
Mindfulness—being aware of our thoughts—can also take the form of practicing gratitude. By making a conscious decision to recognize the good things in your life, you’re shutting down negative thoughts. This helps reduce stress and particularly cortisol, a stress hormone that has a lot of negative effects on the body.
With less cortisol in your system, you may retain less fat in your belly, reduce your blood pressure, and suffer from fewer tension-related aches and pains.
Being grateful is also associated with getting more exercise, possibly because grateful people want to keep the good things in their lives coming—and exercising and feeling good about your body is something to celebrate!
Being consciously grateful is associated with a lot of emotional and psychological benefits.
The most important is probably improved feelings of happiness and reduced depression. Studies have shown that writing letters of gratitude, in particular, can reduce symptoms of depression.
Practicing gratitude can make you feel more satisfied with your life as a whole, because it encourages you to think about what’s going well instead of focusing on the roadblocks or challenges you’re facing.
Feeling happier and more satisfied with your life and having fewer aches and pains can make it easier to get to sleep.
But beyond that, it seems that spending time practicing gratitude at the end of the day, right before you go to bed, acts like a warm glass of milk: it helps you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.
Just 15 minutes of mindful gratitude before bed can help you fall asleep right away and sleep well through the night.
Imagine how much better life will feel with a few good nights of sleep—and how much more you’ll have to be grateful for in the morning!
Saying “thank you” when someone does something nice for you is more than just polite—it helps you deepen your relationships and connect better.
But gratitude is about more than just saying thanks when someone holds the door for you. It’s about showing that you appreciate the people in your life not just for what they do, but for simply being there at all.
People like to be appreciated. By practicing conscious gratitude, you can demonstrate just how much you value your significant other, your friends, family, and even the guy at the grocery store who knows just how to bag your lettuce.
Studies have shown that thanking someone you’ve just met makes them more likely to want to talk to you again in the future—that’s pretty powerful for two little words: thank you.
Take the time to thank someone today for some little thing they did that made your life easier, more fun, or happier. It doesn’t have to be big—just a small, sincere comment or compliment—but you can also make a grander gesture like sending a handwritten card or giving someone a piece of their favorite candy, just because.
Being appreciated will put a smile on someone’s face and a spring in their step—and they might just spread the appreciation to others, creating a snowball effect of gratitude and appreciation.
Showing gratitude to those outside your immediate circle also has benefits. We’ve talked before about the need to provide great value to your readers in order to keep them coming back again and again.
Part of that involves showing them how much you appreciate their trust and interest.
Instead of only sending out email blasts when you have something to promote, send out a note thanking your readers for being a part of your life and your author journey. Give them a free story or share some exclusive insights, but mostly just express how grateful you are that they’ve joined you on your journey.
By thinking about the things that are going well in your life, you’re reminding yourself that you’re a pretty cool person and that good things happen to you.
This boosts your self-esteem and confidence, helping you keep those good things coming!
One study has shown that practicing gratitude leads to higher self-esteem and greater trust in important relationships. Another demonstrates that gratitude leads to an improved attitude about life in general, which bolsters social relationships, self-esteem, and general wellbeing.
Life isn’t all things to be grateful for—there are disasters, traumas, and just plain bad days that strike all of us sooner or later.
But thinking about the good times and the good things that happen to us can help make the bad times easier to deal with.
A number of studies have shown that practicing gratitude can reduce PTSD and the effects of severe trauma—so imagine what it can do for your ability to bounce back from a bad review or a rejection letter!
Being happier, healthier, more confident, and more relaxed means that you’re in a good place to get stuff done.
And because gratitude leads to all these things, it can help you become more productive and to do better work!
Check out this fantastic TED Talk by positive psychologist Shawn Achor to learn more.
Plus, saying thanks to coworkers, colleagues, or members of your team can help you all do better work together. One study has shown that thanking people on your team improves their self-esteem and confidence, leading to better results on projects and more trust.
Being mindful of the good things in your life can improve your health, self-esteem, resilience, and even your relationships and productivity.
Take a few minutes and be grateful for what’s going right. Thank someone for being awesome. Thank yourself for being good to yourself. You’ll be glad you did!
Practicing gratitude can give you more life satisfaction and help you get more done.
Read on for more about mindfulness:
- Meditation Basics: A Busy Person’s Guide to Mindful Focus
- 15 Inspiring Meditation Podcasts
- Focused Breathing: Reduce Stress and Boost Concentration with a Simple Breathing Exercise