Robert Emmons, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, he’s written multiple books on the topic, including The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks and Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Emmons has studied gratitude, researched it, and helped people create gratitude “systems” in their lives. As an easy way to get started, he often has individuals use a gratitude journal for just three short weeks. 

Working with people of all ages, Emmons and his colleagues have been able to define a range of gratitude benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased levels of joy, pleasure, and optimism
  • Decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Increased tendencies toward generosity and compassion
  • Elevated levels of happiness

Why is gratitude able to create such big transformations? As Dr. Emmons shares:

  • It allows us to celebrate the present.
  • It blocks toxic, negative emotions.
  • It helps us become more stress-resistant.
  • It heightens our sense of self-worth.

To be completely transparent, I used to view this whole topic of gratitude as being soft and squishy. Approaching life with a “get after it” mindset, slowing down to be present and living in gratitude seemed counter-intuitive. I didn’t see its value or have time for it. 

Eventually, though, I started to see research that helped me see gratitude’s power. I started to view practicing gratitude as a way to play defense against some of the negativity in my life. Today, my perspective on gratitude has changed again. I now see gratitude as a weapon – one that we can all actively wield to play offense against the dark noise and negativity in our lives. 

Read that last sentence again.

Gratitude is a weapon, and we no longer have to play defense against all the negativity. We can play offense. 

Instead of just defending ourselves from what the world throws at us, ducking behind gratitude when negativity comes our way, we can weaponize gratitude and attack first. Emmons’ research is clear. As an influencer over our thoughts, our physical wellbeing, and how we show up in life, gratitude is a force to be reckoned with. 

Some of you are reading this and think my take on gratitude is too aggressive. We should leave gratitude in its pretty little box with a bow wrapped around it, bringing it out carefully on Thanksgiving Day and special occasions like fine china. 

Looking around at the world we all live in today, I respectfully disagree.

Today, more than ever before, we need a weapon to play offense with. Election cycles, the evening news, social media influences, and a flood of dark noise are all focused on hijacking our hearts and minds. Every day, we’re drowning in toxicity that reminds us of what we don’t have, the challenges hanging over our heads, and how unworthy we are. Stress is high, and reminders of our self-worth are low. Room to be present is being squeezed out as we wrestle with past regrets and future fears.

A heaviness came over you as you read that last paragraph. I felt the same thing as I wrote it. The world today comes with some significant pressure and challenges. 

Gratitude is the answer. Gratitude empowers us to play offense. 

Based on Dr. Emmons’ research, one of the best places for any of us to start is to pick up a journal and start writing. Don’t let that idea intimidate you. You can start with short bullet points or one word responses – or you can let the gratitude flow freely. Either way, the key is to trigger gratitude in our minds and use the physical act of writing to make our gratitude mentally sticky so we can recall it easier later. 

My favorite gratitude journals include simple prompts designed to help us capture what we’re grateful for. Those prompts include: 

Today, I am grateful for… Sometimes there’s something big we’re grateful for, and other times it can be something small. What stands out to you today?

People I appreciate today… The people in our lives are an amazing gift. From friends to family to the cashier at the grocery store, who are you grateful for today?

Opportunities I am grateful for today… What opportunities came your way today, expected or unexpected, that you are grateful for?

What I learned today… Each day comes with lessons. Some come through our successes, and others through our challenges. What did you learn today?

What I am looking forward to… The future can be an excellent source of gratitude in our lives. Looking down the path a bit, what are you looking forward to the most?

My favorite moment… What moment from yesterday or today, depending on when you use your journal, are you the most grateful for?

The Takeaway

Start playing offense and pick up gratitude as a weapon against the negativity and noise. Find a journal that fits your style, or just use the questions above and start writing wherever you want. The goal is simple… just start. Then, push yourself to stay consistent. As Emmons coaches people, stick with this for three weeks and see where you land. 

Curious about those journals I mentioned above? You can find them here.