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Practicing gratitude

Kaiser Permanente Spiritual Care Director Raymond Dougherty offers tips and thoughts on the benefits of keeping a simple gratitude journal.

Raymond Dougherty

Raymond Dougherty is a Kaiser Permanente chaplain who offers presentations on the benefits of gratitude, so you might be surprised to learn that Dougherty often wakes up grumpy.

But Dougherty says he uses his personal gratitude practice, spending 5 to 10 minutes each morning to write about the people and things he’s grateful for, to refocus his energy.

Dougherty, who is Spiritual Care director for Kaiser Permanente in Marin and Sonoma counties, recently spoke about the benefits of cultivating gratitude, especially during these challenging times, and how anyone can get started.

What do you think happens when people make a practice of being grateful?

We begin to slow down and plug into the mystery of life, the gift of our life, and the wonder of being alive.

One of my cycling heroes — Kristen Armstrong, the Olympic gold medalist in road cycling — says that ‘when we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.’ That sounds like poetry, but I have had a very real and visceral experience of that happening, especially when I am down in the dumps. If I can remember to change my focus to gratitude, I have sometimes felt that kind of rush that Armstrong describes.

Describe some of the benefits of gratitude.

Researchers are finding that people who keep a simple gratitude journal tend to exercise more, sleep better and longer, are more likely to help others, and are generally happier. It’s been successful in helping people to cope with traumatic memories, to feel a greater sense of belonging, and to be more resilient. All this from 5 or 10 minutes of daily practice. If this were a pill, we would all want to take it!

How do you get started?

Research shows that there is power in writing down the things we are grateful for. At all my presentations, I pass out small blank journals and we start right there on the spot. I can feel energy in the room change as everyone writes a few things they are grateful for, people are softly smiling as they write, breathing deeper and easier, relaxing just a bit. It’s remarkable to experience.

It’s recommended that you practice around the same time every day. Some people do it first thing in the morning; others do it at night before falling asleep, to help them let go of the burdens of the day. You can use a paper and pen, a smartphone app, or you can start a file on your computer.

How do you keep this practice going strong?

Be specific and detailed in your gratitude. Instead of writing ‘I am grateful for my job,’ you might write about a specific aspect of your work that you are grateful for today. Surprise and novelty increase gratitude, so also include bad things that you feared but did not happen or when someone does a small, unexpected act of kindness for you. You’ll notice that if you take the time to write down what you’re thankful for, then being grateful will naturally begin to spill into your day, and into your other activities and your relationships.

I like to remind people that you don’t have to feel grateful to be grateful. Research shows that the people who feel the least grateful or happy before doing a gratitude practice actually benefit the most. So don’t wait until you feel warm and fuzzy, jump in any time!

Thinking about starting your own gratitude practice? Learn more at A Network for Grateful Living, The Greater Good Science Center, and SoulPancake.


behavioral health

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. This was a fantastic article. I had an experience similar to the cyclist who the author mentioned right after I was told that I had triple negative breast cancer. I was home alone, and felt my spirit dropping into an abyss. So I got on my knees and thanked God for my life, and for always keeping me safe, and asked him to replace my fear with joy… and then I felt the “Woosh.” I could physically feel my spirit flying out of the abyss of darkness and fear, and I was able to walk through a double mastectomy and two rounds of chemo with no fear. I had trust that He would bring me through, and I believe that my sincere Gratitude along with the absence of fear brought me through my journey, and now I help other women who have been diagnosed with cancer.

  2. Motivated me to start a gratitude journal today! The suggestions were helpful. “I can do this!” And keep it up.

  3. Wonderful! I can certainly get a little grumpy at times, and I’m a pastor. Started my gratitude journal today! 😉

  4. Really enjoyed the article, I appreciate the tips for practicing gratitude very simple and easy to adopt.

  5. There really is not enough gratitude in the world right now. Taking the time and acknowleding the good deeds that are done, the sun that shines upon us, and the generosity of our staff and families. Just saying thank you, and I appreciate you makes someones day even brighter! An amazing way to thrive!

  6. Great article! Thank you for sharing practical applications as well as tips on how we can improve our practice.

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