The Best Gratitude Practice
“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”– Lionel Hampton
Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude creates joy in our lives and brings many significant advantages when practiced regularly.
Research has shown that gratitude practices reduce anxiety and fear and at the same time, they increase positivity and motivation. It does so by reducing the activity of the amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses like fear, anxiety, and aggression.
Gratitude practices also affect health by reducing inflammation.
Gratitude generates a flood of happiness hormones in your brain. And the presence of those boosts brain plasticity which allows you to adjust, learn, and change. This is extremely helpful when you want to improve any area of your life.
So, naturally, scientists were kin to find out what are the most efficient gratitude practices.
“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.”– Sonja Lyubomirskye
You can find online numerous suggestions for a gratitude practice. The most popular practices are gratitude journaling, reflection, listing the things you are grateful for or meditating upon them.
Elements of the Best Gratitude Practice
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”– Gilbert C. Chesterton
Neuroscience found that specific elements can make gratitude practice far more efficient than popular practices do.
Multiple scientific studies measuring brain activity showed what type of gratitude practices cause the biggest response.
Who for Whom
Surprisingly, the strongest gratitude is experienced when you think not about what you are grateful for but about someone being genuinely grateful to you for your love, attention, or simply presence, for something you said or did for them.
Empathy also causes a strong feeling of gratitude when you hear and see someone being in a difficult situation and being helped by someone else. So, you don’t need even to be involved in that event.
Stories have a strong influence on people. Your attention gets captivated when you hear: “Once upon a time…” or “Just imagine…”
And even gratitude is felt most intensely when we perceive it through a narrative. So, for a powerful gratitude practice choose a story that touches you.
It can be about someone being grateful to you or someone being grateful for love, words, and help to someone else.
You can make bullet points of the story:
- What happened and how you felt before
- How gratitude was expressed
- How did it make you feel
Or if the story was about someone else:
- What the struggle was
- What the help was
- How did it make you feel
“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”– Karl Barth
Example with Nancy
For example, one client of mine comes into mind, let’s call her Nancy.
When I work with clients I get to understand their personal struggles in detail. For that, when I prepare for a session I go through my notes and study the language that clients use. I did this also before Nancy’s session. And during the session, I had to focus sharply and make decisions on how to guide her to the best result.
It was an emotional session, Nancy felt a huge relief, and leaving my office she told: “I would love to hug you”.
I knew that Nancy is rather careful and reserved with people and she met me for the first time. Those words meant that the session was impactful. So I was deeply touched by this genuine expression of gratitude for my work.
The highlights of this story to repeat daily would be:
- intense preparation and sharp focus during the session with the intention to help
- Nancy’s words: “I would love to hug you”
- I felt deeply touched
In order to achieve benefits for your mental and physical health, repeatedly go through the most important points, and highlights of the story. Spend a few moments a day doing this. Repetition trains your brain. And very soon you will notice changes in your mentality and health because your gratitude practice will change you on the cellular level!
These are the elements of an effective gratitude practice:
- choose your gratitude story
- pick the highlights of the story
- spend a few moments a day going through the highlights of the story
Enjoy the benefits!
You might also find useful my posts on mental well-being about Words for Better Thoughts: 5 Tips and How to Sleep Better.
If you want to dive deeper into the science of gratitude, I highly recommend the podcast of Dr. Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University.
Human LJ, Woolley JD, Mendes WB. Effects of oxytocin administration on receiving help. Emotion. 2018 Oct;18(7):980-988. doi: 10.1037/emo0000369. Epub 2017 Nov 27. PMID: 29172621.
Coe, K., N.E. Aiken, and C.T. Palmer. (2006) Once Upon a Time: Ancestors and the Evolutionary Significance of Stories. Anthropol. Forum. 16, 21–40. doi:10.1080/00664670600572421.
Hazlett LI, Moieni M, Irwin MR, Haltom KEB, Jevtic I, Meyer ML, Breen EC, Cole SW, Eisenberger NI. Exploring neural mechanisms of the health benefits of gratitude in women: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2021 Jul;95:444-453. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2021.04.019. Epub 2021 Apr 28. PMID: 33932527.
Fox GR, Kaplan J, Damasio H, Damasio A. Neural correlates of gratitude. Front Psychol. 2015 Sep 30;6:1491. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01491. PMID: 26483740; PMCID: PMC4588123.