It’s that time of year again…time to open up our hearts and be grateful to those around us. Although we might sit down at the Thanksgiving dinner table and offer up thanks, it’s likely that many of us simply leave it at that. Next year, we’ll likely do it all over again, probably with the same answers.
Have you ever considered incorporating gratitude into your everyday life? Have you considered the potential positive benefits of gratitude? The effects of gratitude have a lengthy history of scientific study and have long been known to be extremely beneficial to total health and wellness. Compared to other popular health trends which require a financial investment, early morning boot-camps, and restrictive diets, gratitude can be one of the easiest ways to boost your health.
The Ultimate Definition of Gratitude
Yes, gratitude is being thankful, but it goes a bit deeper than such a simple explanation. It’s long been a part of Buddhist meditation and represents a pillar of mindfulness practice. According to the Existential Buddhist website:
“When we are grateful we do not wish for more than we have but appreciate that which is already present in our lives. We do not chafe at the good fortune of others or resent or mourn that which is missed, lost, gone, or never had. The desire for more can be boundless and endless. There is always one more thing to want.”
Gratitude is the heartfelt practice of thanks. Although there are countless definitions, I often fall back on the interpretation of Robert Emmons, a leading voice in the study of gratitude:
“Gratitude has been conceptualized as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, and an attitude. It is all of these and more. Minimally, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act.”
Develop deeper gratitude through practicing just Eight Weeks of Mindfulness Meditation.
5 Ways Gratitude Benefits You and Your Health
Don’t believe me that a change in thought patterns can lead to a positive change in your mental and physical health? Check out what the research has to say on the subject of gratitude’s health benefits:
1. Reduces Stress: Gratitude has been shown to reduce daily stresses. In 2006 researchers discovered that there were lower incidences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans who had higher gratitude levels. Other studies have found that gratitude reduces aggression and retaliation against others. It also seems to reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.
2. Improves Personal Relationships: Not surprisingly, people who are constantly thankful tend to have better relationships. While it’s obvious that it’s much nicer to be surrounded by happy people, it’s also been measured scientifically. Grateful people have a 17.5 percent increase in social capital than others who are less so.
3. Promotes Physical Health: Crazy but true, gratitude has implications for not only mental well-being but physical health. In study after study, where people were asked to keep a gratitude journal or count their blessings, the participants experienced measurably greater health benefits. The measured benefits included lower blood pressure, lower risk for depression, less experience with physical pain, and more time spent exercising.
4. A Better Night’s Sleep: Do you realize that keeping a gratitude journal has been linked to a better sleep? I’ll talk about my personal journey with keeping a journal in a moment, but this experience was published initially by Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being in 2011. According to their results, participants who spent 15 minutes before bed recalling and writing down notes of gratitude were much more likely to get a healthy sleep.
5. Happier Memories: It appears that humans are wired only to remember the peaks and the valleys of experiences. Despite the fact that 2017 was a good year, one is likely only to remember the highest highs and lowest lows. On top of this, there is evidence that you are scientifically proven to more likely regurgitate the negative memories when asked about 2017.
By practicing gratitude, you can foster a better relationship with your memory. This means you’ll be triggered to re-tell the good moments more so than the bad. Again, it comes down to strengthening the pathways in your brain that link to the good memories, instead of the bad.
How do I incorporate gratitude into my daily life? I’m so glad you asked! Every morning and every night I make a thoughtful entry into my gratitude journal. I’ve been practicing this habit for the last six months, and despite what the naysayers may think, I’ve noticed a real change in my mental well-being.
There are a handful of gratitude journals on the market, one of the most popular is the Five Minute Journal. However, as long as you have a blank journal at home, it’s easy to start your own. There are also mobile apps available to help you develop the practice.
How To Develop Daily Gratitude
1. Purchase a ready-made journal specifically for gratitude notes or create one from a blank diary.
2. Keep the journal by your bed for easy access after you wake up and before you go to sleep.
3. Every morning, before you get out of bed answer the question:
- What am I grateful for? Take your time, and consider all aspects of life. Give three answers.
4. Every night answer the question:
- What amazing things happened today? Again, think deeply about it, and give three answers.
5. Every few months I also like to take the time to reflect on what I’ve written.
It’s most important that even on the rough days, you keep up the practice. I’ve found that the bad days are the best days to deeply push through to your core values. While it might be much easier to list everything that went wrong that day, it’s important to consider what small things have gone right.
Slowly, the negative connections I’ve formed through years of anxious thoughts have readjusted and formed stronger positive connections towards the good things in my life. I am experiencing the real-life changes measured in many of the studies about gratitude