There’s something magical about the start of a new year. It’s a clean slate. Anything feels possible. 365 fresh days lay ahead of us. Most of us lay out a few goals for ourselves. For some, it might look like “go to the gym”, for others, it might be “quit smoking”. Some people resolve to go vegan, write a book, or launch an online business.
There’s one goal, however, that you should definitely make one of your resolutions this year: the habit of gratitude.
Why? Because according to science, it literally changes your life.
Gratitude is what’s called a “keystone habit“. Keystone habits are habits that, when adopted, change other parts of your life too, almost by magic. One example of a keystone habit is exercise. When adults start exercising as little as once per week, they gain energy, motivation, and productivity in spades. They report doing better at work, eating better at mealtimes, and sleeping better. In essence: building a habit of exercise will eventually change your entire lifestyle for the better.
Like exercise, gratitude has a multitude of benefits on your psyche:
- Gratitude helps us have better well-being and behavior overall. Adolescents who are grateful as teenagers are more satisfied with life, and engage in less antisocial behavior.
- Adults who practice weekly or daily gratitude report greater optimism, positive mood, feelings of belonging, and physical health.
- According to one study, practicing gratitude helps alleviate anxiety and stress, and, while it doesn’t cure depression, it does help ease some of the mental illness’ symptoms.
- When people feel grateful, they have lower levels of aggression and are more likely to have healthy romantic relationships.
The science is clear: gratitude is a habit worth cultivating. That isn’t the hard part. The hard part is knowing how to turn a concept into a habit.
How to Practice Gratitude This Year
Gratitude helps us keep our lives in perspective. During natural disasters, often you’ll see the victims turning not to what they’ve lost, but what they’ve retained. They might have lost their homes and all of their worldly possessions, but they will find comfort in gratitude by shifting their focus to family members and close friends who make their lives meaningful.
However, it doesn’t have to take a tragedy to generate gratitude. You can practice gratitude by turning it into a daily habit – even when you don’t necessarily feel all that grateful.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, conducted a study where they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week about things they were grateful for. After just 10 weeks, those who had done the simple act of acknowledging good events actually felt better about their lives. They exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than the average person.
It’s clear: the simple act of acknowledging what you’re grateful for has a profound act on your life. So, this year, make the resolution to make a habit of practicing gratitude. You could keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal, write a thank-you note to someone else, pray or meditate on the good things in your life, or even thank someone (including the Universe!) mentally for the things you have.
However you choose to do it, the habit of gratitude is a worthwhile goal to reach for this coming year.
What are you grateful for?