How do you express gratitude in your daily life?
To me, it sometimes feels daunting. I'm reminded of hand-writing hundreds of thank you cards after our wedding. Or making sure to eat every last bite on my plate so my grandma wouldn't think I was ungrateful for my meal.
But experts say it doesn't have to be that complicated. In this episode, I talk to Christina Costa, a psychologist who has studied the positive effects of gratitude on the brain, and Paulette Moore, a founding member of The Aunties Dandelion, a media-arts collective informed by Indigenous teachings, about how to be thankful for the smallest of things — and how to be better at showing gratitude.
Here are some highlights from the conversation.
- Gratitude has positive benefits on mental and physical health. Studies have found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people sleep better, lower stress and improve interpersonal relationships.
- Want to get better at being thankful? Start a gratitude journal ... Make it a habit to jot down the things that you're thankful for. "Set up a timer. I like to [write in my journal] in the morning because that sets my day up best. Or do it on your phone. Make it as easy as possible," says Costa.
In fact, a study from 2018 found that keeping a gratitude journal decreased materialism and bolstered generosity among adolescents. There's also some evidence it could lower your risk of heart disease and lower symptoms of depression for some people.
- ... or write a letter. Think of someone in your life who you have not had the chance to thank, says Costa. "Why are you grateful for that person? Think of a specific instance when they helped you. Then send them a letter, an email, or even better, deliver the letter in person and read it to them."
- If you're having trouble finding someone to thank, think small. "The smaller you start, the more you'll start seeing things you're grateful for," says Costa. Say "a bus driver picks you up and he's really nice or waits for a minute for you. You think, I'm going to write about this later [in my gratitude journal]. I'm so grateful for this."
- Notice the world around you. Look around you, just in your immediate space, and take notice of everything that makes up your environment: the sky, the cool breeze, the warmth of your fuzzy sweater. The act of simply noticing and naming things is a great way to flex that gratitude muscle as well as garner some clarity on the strength of all of the unique connections in your life, says Moore.
- There's a difference between saying "thanks to" and "thanks for." "Make sure you're giving thanks to" something and not for something, says Moore. Being grateful "for" something can be a little vague or general. Being grateful "to" something or someone implies a direct relationship. It encourages specificity and reminds you of your connection with and responsibility to that person or thing.
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The audio portion of this episode was produced by Summer Thomad. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.
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