Gratitude. You know you should be counting your blessings but we all have those days (weeks!) when nothing goes as planned. The world feels as if it’s conspiring against us, and we find ourselves angry, irritable and a little defeated.
When we’re in a “why me?” funk it’s not easy to feel grateful. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Instead of counting our blessings, we make a mental list of everything that is going wrong. Unfortunately, focusing on the negative can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious and depressed.
We are all capable of feeling grateful, but sometimes we need a little reminder to practice it consistently. While there are many reasons to practice gratitude, perhaps the biggest reason of all is the positive benefits it has on our brains. Let's get into what science tells us about practicing being grateful.
The Science of Gratitude
Research has shown that gratitude can improve general well-being, increase resilience, strengthen social relationships, and reduce stress and depression. That's amazing stuff! The more grateful you are, the greater your overall sense of well-being and life satisfaction.
Gratitude doesn't stop there. Actively being grateful also helps build stronger immune systems, lowers blood pressure and improves your quality of sleep. You’ll feel more alert, generous, compassionate, and happier. When you feel grateful, you have a greater capacity for joy and positive emotions.
You can feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. You can apply it to the past by retrieving positive memories and being thankful for past blessings; the present by not taking good fortune for granted as it comes; and the future by maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude. Wherever you find yourself on the gratitude spectrum, it's a skill you can successfully cultivate further.
Here are more of the ways gratitude helps you feel your best.
Gratitude Edges Out Negative Emotions
People who use more positive emotion words, and less negative emotion words, show significantly better mental health. It’s impossible to feel grateful and negative at the same time. When you consistently express more gratitude, it becomes difficult to ruminate on negative emotions and experiences - anxiety and depression give way to joy and appreciation.
The more space gratitude is allowed to take up, the more it will expand itself and make way for other positive emotions – joy, connection, happiness, and appreciation. More positive emotions mean there is less room for negative ones.
Gratitude Improves Your Health
People who regularly practice gratitude report fewer aches and pains and say they feel healthy and vigorous. Perhaps not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health.
Grateful people exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
Gratitude Increases Self-Esteem
Gratitude helps us look beyond ourselves and notice the good in the world. When we experience the good in other people and our environments, it increases our feelings of security and connectedness.
Studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem- grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
With all these amazing benefits it's no-brainer to cultivate a stronger gratitude practice. Here are some simple ways to get started.
How To Practice Gratitude
Keep a gratitude journal.
Make it a habit to write down your thoughts about the things you appreciate each day. This can be as simple as someone holding open a door for you, or a compliment you received at work.
Write a thank-you note.
You can make yourself happier and cultivate your relationship with someone by writing a thank-you note expressing your appreciation and enjoyment of that person's impact on your life. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
Pay it forward.
Feel self-conscious about sending a note? You can return the favor bestowed upon you by participating in acts of kindness for others.
Take some time over the weekend to empty out closets of gently used clothes, toys and household items and donate them to local shelters in your area. Likewise, you can research non-profits that resonate with you and offer to donate items on their wishlist. Animal shelters, homeless shelters and battered women's centers are all good options.
The gift of your time is a great way to show gratitude and costs you nothing. Volunteering can take many forms and can include your child's school, food pantries, libraries or any other place that could use the extra help.
Practice Mindfulness and Awareness.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on breathing, it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for - such as a beautiful fall day, an interaction with a friend or simply being grateful to have a few minutes to be mindful.
Gratitude builds on itself and consistency is key in order for you to experience the full benefits. We know the brain changes with repetition, so the more that gratitude is practiced, the more the brain learns to tune in tothe positive things in the world.
Need some help finding the positive in your life? Feel free to reach out to schedule some time to talk.