There is no time like the end of the year that stirs our interest in self-improvement. Many of us are thinking of the new beginnings, lofty goals and big dreams we want to chase after, optimistic that the next year will be different to the last. Yet there is one thing we would do well to take in our stride before we enter the new year: the practice of gratitude.
We know, in theory, that we should be grateful. But focusing on what we’re grateful for can sound counter-intuitive to our personal growth goals for the new year, as if we’re trying to be content with how things are. Yet data shows that simply scribbling down a few things you’re grateful for each day will actually bump up your willpower.
Recognising you have benefits in life and acknowledging that things are okay gives you the fuel to do things that seem hard. Gratitude is not a means to deny a role for future effort; it is stopping to recognise that there are already some very good reasons to be more satisfied with who we are and what we have.
In an essay written by The School of Life, the author said, “A failure to draw pleasure from our current circumstances is an indication of a problem which will likely dog us even if we reach the pinnacle of all our ambitions. Our problem is not having enough; it is not daring to relax our guard long enough to draw pleasure from any advantage.”
Suppose you want to improve your health and well-being in the new year. In that case, studies show grateful people are happier and healthier. Dr Laurie Santos, Yale Psychology professor and host of the podcast The Happiness Lab, says though it “sounds really cheesy . . . gratitude has the stamp of science.”
Studies show people who practice gratitude sleep better; have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; have reduced stress levels and increased mood; are more productive; are better at saving money; have stronger social connections; make healthier eating choices; are less likely to procrastinate and are more likely to do difficult things they know will benefit them in the future. Studies also show that practicing gratitude reduces depression and anxiety and helps individuals recover from loss and trauma.
A gratitude practice can bring up concerns of complacency and seem at odds with what we’re trying to do or become going forward into the new year. But as we can see, it has benefits and will support you on your way to personal growth.
With that in mind, we don’t have to wait until the new year to start. Not only is it an excellent way to end the year on a positive note but it can also make for interesting and engaging conversation with others.
Here are some questions to ask:
- What’s your favourite memory of the year and why?
- What’s your biggest ‘win’ from this past year?
- In what ways did you grow personally?
- What’s one thing that was hard but that you’re glad you did?
- Did anyone new come into your life, or did you connect with someone in a meaningful way?
- What moment(s) made you laugh or feel happy?
- How did you spend your birthday? Did anyone do anything to make you feel special?
- Where did you feel like God showed up the biggest?
- Did you go on any holidays or trips, and if so, what was your favourite part/place and why?
- What meal stood out? Was it because of the company, food or location?
- What was the best fun purchase you made?
- What was something nice someone said?
- If you have children, what was your favourite moment with them?
- If you are in a relationship, what was your favourite moment as a couple?
- What was your favourite moment with family?
- What was your favourite moment with friends?
Gratitude holds the key to contentment and greater well-being. In the Bible, Psalm 116:7 says, “Let my soul be at rest for the Lord has been good to me.” That means to have a soul at rest, you need to be able to see the goodness in your life.
So, before you front-load the new year with goals and resolutions, I hope you will take this scientific tip to heart by bringing a grateful balance to your life and starting your year with a thankful attitude for what’s just passed. Here’s to deeply and intentionally appreciating what life brings you from here on out—the big, the small and the in-between.
If you want to make a habit out of gratitude, here are some tips:
- Get a journal for it or create a note on your phone where you can write everything down. Thinking about what you’re grateful for is wonderful, but you miss the pleasure of seeing that list stack up to the hundreds, even thousands.
- Aim to write three things a day. Consistency will build up your muscle to be able to see the good around you without having to think about it so much. Over time you will likely find yourself having more and more to be grateful for.
- Be specific. You don’t have to write long sentences, but instead of saying, “I’m grateful for family”, explain why. Did they do or say something to make you feel a certain way?
- Share what you’re grateful for with friends and get them to think about it too. This creates closeness and encourages positive conversation.
- If there’s someone in your life you’re grateful for, write them a gratitude letter and deliver it to them. Strength expert Ryan Niemiec says this encourages the appreciation of others in your life and strengthens relationships.
Zanita Fletcher is a life coach, writer, and an assistant editor for Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand. She writes from the Gold Coast, Queensland. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand website and is republished with permission.