By Andee Tagle and Malaka Gharib
How do you express your gratitude in your daily life?
It feels daunting to me at times. I am reminded of handwriting 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. I have a say in this episode Christina Costa, a psychologist who has studied the positive effects of gratitude on the brain, and Paulette Moore, founding member of The Aunties Dandelion, a media arts collective taught by Indigenous teachings on 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 effects on mental and physical health. Studies have found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people sleep better, reduce stress, and improve interpersonal relationships.
- Do you want to get better at being thankful? Start a gratitude journal… Make it a habit write down the things you are thankful for. “Set a timer. I do it with pleasure [write in my journal] in the morning, because that prepares me best for the day. Or do it on your phone. Make it as easy as possible for yourself,” says Costa.
In fact, a 2018 study found that keeping a gratitude journal decreases materialism and increases generosity among youth. There’s also some evidence that it may lower the risk of heart disease and, in some people, symptoms of depression.
- … or write a letter. Think of someone in your life that you haven’t had a chance to say thank you to, says Costa. “Why are you grateful to this person? Think of a specific case in which she helped you. Then send her a letter, email or, even better, deliver the letter in person and read it to her.”
- If you’re having trouble finding someone to thank, think small. “The smaller you start, the more you’ll see things that you’re grateful for,” says Costa. Say: “A bus driver will pick you up and is super nice or waits for you briefly. You think I’ll write about that later [in my gratitude journal]. I’m so grateful for that.”
- Perceive the world around you. Look around, just your immediate surroundings, and take in everything that makes up your surroundings: the sky, the cool breeze, the warmth of your fluffy sweater. The act of simply noticing and naming things is a great way to exercise that gratitude muscle and gain clarity about the strength of all the unique connections in your life, says Moore.
- There is a difference between saying “thank you to” and “thank you for”. “Make sure you say thank you to” something and not to the something, says Moore. Being grateful “for” something can be a bit vague or general. Being “thankful” 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 voice message at 202-216-9823or email us [email protected].
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