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Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

  • Feeling grateful offers numerous health benefits and can bring you greater joy and satisfaction.

  • What are you grateful for? If you haven’t pondered that question lately, start today. Numerous scientific studies prove that regularly focusing on what you appreciate rewires your brain to counteract negativity and generates health benefits, including better sleep, happier moods and higher self-esteem.

    “Paying attention just once a day to what you appreciate is enough to have an effect on your life,” says Renee Burgard, LCSW, a psychotherapist who teaches mindfulness and stress reduction classes at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Here’s how to grow your gratitude.

  • Cultivate a thankful attitude

  • Your brain is hardwired to be watchful and worried, a vigilance that helped our ancestors survive extreme living conditions. But in the modern world, this survival mechanism regularly stays in overdrive, creating unnecessary anxiety, worry and chronic stress that adversely affects your health.

    By intentionally choosing an attitude of appreciation and gratitude, “you increase your capacity for appreciation and for calming your body, heart and mind,” Burgard says. This goes beyond simply saying thanks, she adds. “Gratitude is paying attention to what you have and cultivating a heartfelt sense of appreciation for it.”

  • Bask in pleasant memories

  • Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, suggests this practice: Close you eyes, think back to a positive experience and remember everything you can about it. Relive it in your mind. Breathe in deeply, taking in the pleasantness. Then breathe out and imagine you’re sending the pleasantness to every cell of your body. And again, for four or five more breaths. Staying with the pleasant experience a little longer than usual can be very healing.

    “By focusing on and staying with a pleasant memory, you’re rewiring your brain,” Burgard says. “Remember, your brain is Velcro for negative and Teflon for positive. You need to stay with pleasant memories and events to make them stick.”

  • Seek the good

  • When you’re having a bad day, ask yourself, “What’s not wrong?” This practice, from the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, helps you find the good in your life even during difficult times. You may be stressed about your messy house, but you have a roof over your head and food to eat. You may be arguing with your colleague, but you have an engaging job that pays your bills. No matter the situation, stop for a minute to consider what’s not wrong.

    “It’s hard to access gratitude sometimes,” Burgard says. “‘What’s not wrong’ is a bridge to gratitude. It’s a way to think about positive things in your life without forcing it.”

  • Remember three good things

  • “Each night before you go to sleep, think of three good things that happened that day,” Burgard says. “Write them down and spend a little time reflecting on what brought those things into your life.” This classic gratitude practice helps draw attention to the positive. Plus, according to a 2011 study, spending just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed helps you sleep better and longer.