A New Year’s Gratitude Practice + 5 Unusual Gratitude Tips! | by Julia Menard & Emma-Louise

Woman holding hands under chin in thanks

The New Year is a great time to look back in gratitude for what was, and to look forward in anticipation for what could be.

Gratitude is a key part of our Fierce Kindness philosophy to Create a Life You Love. And there are 2 ways to create a life you love:

  1. Taking action to create the life you want.
  2. And seeing the life you already have in a more appreciative light.

The holiday period offers us a great time to reflect and remember the importance of gratitude.

Take me straight to the Gratitude Practice >>

Gratitude boosts our mental and physical health

There is a field of study looking at the relationship between our biology and gratitude.

It seems, in addition to making us feel more satisfied with our lives, more optimistic about our upcoming week, and more connected with others, cultivating gratitude is now found to have biological markers like helping us sleep better, boosting immune function and helping with stress (by helping us positively reinterpret stressful or negative life experiences).

In one of the early studies on gratitude, researchers, Emmons and McCullough divided a sample group of 192 participants into three groups.

  • One group was asked to record five hassles they experienced each week, for 10 weeks.
  • A second group was asked to record five events they experienced each week.
  • The third group was the gratitude group and they were assigned this task:
    • There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down… up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for.

The records required for all 3 groups were brief—one line allotted per item. And in addition to the listing of blessings, hassles or life events, the weekly form people were given included ratings of mood, physical symptoms, reactions to social support received, estimated amount of time spent exercising and two global life appraisal questions.

In this way, the researchers went about attempting to measure the impact of these 3 distinct activities on all these areas.

Gratitude is good for us

There were significant positive effects for the gratitude-group participants including increased ratings for their life as a whole. They also  experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than those in either of the other two groups. Interestingly, the people in the gratitude condition also spent significantly more time exercising (nearly 1.5 hours more per week) than those recording hassles.

The more grateful I am, the more beauty I see. Mary Davis

Below, inspired by these scientific studies and 5 unexpected tips to make your gratitude journaling more powerful.

5 Unusual Tips on Gratitude Journaling

1) Choose depth over breadth

Although the research study above asked participants to keep a simple list, elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful can apparently carry more benefit than a simple shopping list.

I’ve noticed this myself in my own gratitude journaling practice: if I spend time going into detail about something I feel grateful for, deeper feelings are generated than if I just jot down a quick one liner.

Of course we don’t always have the time to go into detail. So I imagine it would be more important to generate the intention to be grateful, and do something rather than nothing.

2) Reflect on what it would be like without something

Another way to connect with gratitude is to reflect on what it would be like without certain blessings.

This makes me think of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. What if George hadn’t existed?

So, what if today’s event (that I’m grateful for( had not happened? What if someone you are grateful was not in your life?

This also makes me think of the transitory nature of life. I am grateful for this moment, for you dear reader, for this day.

Today will never come again in this particular way. And that too, is a type of absence. It certainly is an appreciation of the ending of things.

3) Savour surprises

Capturing events that were unexpected or surprising are supposed to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

I like the idea of waking up in the morning and setting the intention of noticing and being grateful for (pleasant) surprises.

If life were predictable, it would cease to be life, and be without flavor. Eleanor Roosevelt

4) Think smaller

If you get stuck thinking of things to be grateful for, think smaller. Lower your standards and expectations until you can find things to be grateful for.

We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude. Cynthia Ozick

5) Don’t overdo your gratitude practice!

There seems to be different research on whether it’s better to journal daily, a few times a week or weekly.

According to one study done by the happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward whereas people who wrote three times per week didn’t:

People who regularly practice appreciation or gratitude—who, for example, ‘count their blessings’ once a week over the course of one to twelve consecutive weeks …become reliably happier and healthier, and remain happier for as long as six months after the experiment is over. Sonja Lyubomirsky

A New Year’s Gratitude Practice for You!

Perfect for New Year’s Day, here are some journaling prompts to help build a gratitude practice using the tips above.

1) Choose depth over breadth

  • What 3 things am I most grateful for over the last year? Now go deeply into why you’re grateful for each of the 3 things. For example you might like to consider:
    • How this event/thing/experience/person etc made you feel.
    • Specifically how your life is better as a result. What benefits came from this?
    • How you were transformed.
    • What you learned about yourself/life/others.

2) Now imagine life without those 3 things…

Consider the 3 things you were most grateful for and explored above.

  • What would your life last year have been like without those 3 things?
  • How would you feel now?
  • What would be? And what would not be?

3) What surprised you?

  • What were your biggest (pleasant) surprises of last year? Make a list!
  • Here are some questions to help:
    • What worked out unexpectedly?
    • Who and What surprised you—and how?
    • What happy accidents are you grateful for?

4) Think smaller

  • Make a list of 10 small things that made your life better in 2023—that you’d like to appreciate more in 2024!

For example: high quality chocolate, holding hands with your partner on a walk, sunshine on a cold day, a warm home to come home to, those shoes/ear-rings/that sweater/fun socks that make you smile, a great book to read etc.

5) But don’t overdo your gratitude practice!

What could a gratitude practice look like for you next year?

  • If you’ve tried a daily practice and it didn’t work, what about a weekly practice or even a monthly depth practice?
  • Could you put a regular slot in your diary, and then curl up with a delicious herbal tea or glass of wine, some chocolate and make it a pleasant ritual?

Wrap-upFierce Kindness Logo

The New Year is a time to both reflect on the past—and look ahead. And it’s a great time to start a new positive habit like gratitude journaling.

Which of the 5 tips in this article most appealed to you? What will you do differently in your life as a result?

Julia Menard Contributing author: Julia Menard, PCC, M.Ed. is a Professional Certified Coach. Julia has a Masters in Educational Psychology specializing in Leadership. She helps Leaders Transform Workplace Conflict through Coaching, Mediation and Training. To learn more about Julia and her work, check out her website juliamenard.com. And if you’re interested in communicating better and staying calm during conflicts be sure to check out Julia’s great ecourses on how to have tough conversations and how to stay cool during conflict. Lastly, join other collaborative leaders receiving regular conflict guidance by signing-up for her newsletter here.
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