"When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out, and the tide of love rushes in."
Gratitude is a topic that comes to the fore front each year around the Thanksgiving holiday. Even as children we being the practice of tracing our hand prints on paper to make turkeys and then writing something we are thankful for in each of the outlined fingers. There is no doubt that this is a wonderful practice to really focus on all the good we often overlook in the midst of our day to day endeavors. The truth is, practicing an attitude of gratitude can have many benefits on our health and wellness, when we decide to make it a regular part of routine.
Positive psychology and mental health researchers, over the past few decades, have established an overwhelming connection to gratitude and good health. Studies show that benefits of gratitude are endless but across the board gratitude in all forms is associated with happiness. It improves our health, strengthens our interpersonal relationships and builds professional commitment. The act of being grateful aids in releasing toxin emotions, reduces pain, stress and anxiety, and improved sleep. It also positively correlated to more vitality, energy, enthusiasm to work harder, empathy, compassion and a greater consideration for others.
Focusing on gratitude is a choice. A choice that we can make each day until it becomes a habit. Let’s talk about some ways to get started.
Mindfulness is simply the ability to be present in the moment. When we are living in this moment, we are not worried about what has happened before or what is going to happen later. It is said that depression comes from living in the past and anxiety stems from living in the unknown of the future, therefore present moment awareness can have profound benefits for mental health. This may seem daunting if it is new to you, however, it can be manageable and with regular practice, become a habit.
Being aware of your senses can help draw you into the present moment. When you being to feel negative emotions rising, still your body and practice 5-4-3-2-1 as it pertains to your sense. Notice five things you see in the space you are in., the color of the walls, the tree outside the window, the pattern of the rug, or a picture on the wall, for example. Then, take notice four sounds you can hear around you, people talking, cars driving outside, the purr of your cat, humming of the heater and so on. Then, focus on three things you can feel, your socks inside your shoes, your hands rubbing together, the softness of the chair you are sitting in. Move to the sense of smell and notice 2 things you smell, cooking food, air freshener, someone’s perfume. Finally notice a lingering taste, or the absence of taste. This practice allows the brain and body to connect and be mindfulness of what is happening right now,
Using an anchor can also help you practice mindfulness more intentionally throughout the day. For example, each time you touch a door knob remind yourself to take three deep breaths. Or each red light you stop at while driving could be used as a reminder to fill your body with fresh oxygen and bring yourself back to the moment at hand.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Studies have shown that this simple act can have profound effects on our physical and mental health. The idea of journaling may be overwhelming to you; however, this can be super simple to implement. Find a notebook and set a timer for a consistent time each day. Start small so you can get yourself up for success. List three things you are thankful for in the notebook each day. Over time you may build up to five things or allow for more time to free write your thoughts from the day as they are filter through the lens of gratitude. Here are a few examples from my own personal journal this week.
Coffee. Hug from my son. Fuzzy blankets.
Call from a friend. Walking my dog. Pineapple.
Yoga. Full gas tank. Instacart.
Start a “Thank You” Jar.
Whether you are sharing your thank you’s aloud of not, writing them down has a powerful effect on the brain. Encouraging a place to hold the gratitude in your home can be powerful. Jot the thank you notes on slips of paper and read them aloud when things are challenging. The simple act of revisiting all those moments of gratitude can help rewire the brain and invigorate the body. Focusing on the good may be necessary to encourage the resiliency to push through hard things. The notes could be directed to a specific person, a place, thing or experience.
Beginning this practice with young children is incredibly impactful. Think of the long-term effects on their brains when they are wired to see the blessing inspire of the struggle.
A few from our jar read as follows:
“Thank you for helping me pack my lunch.”
“I want to thank my sister for playing cars with me when I was sad.”
“Thanks. Mom for getting us ice cream.”
“Thank you for cleaning up the leaves in the yard without being asked, what a great surprise that was to have it off of my list!
Involve those you love.
In order for gratitude to have the most impact, it is often said that we need to also acknowledge what it not going well. Without sadness, how can we know what happiness feels like? Without disappointment how are we to know success? Part of the daily routine at our house is something called, Peach and Pit. Each person has an opportunity to share something good from their day, the peach, and something that didn’t go the way they might have liked, the pit. The rules are simple. Everyone must participate. Everyone must have at least one peach and only one pit. This allows for conversation about hard things, teachable moments and the strengthening of the resiliency muscle. It has become a staple for our family and is encouraged by our children. When we have dinner guests, they are also asked to share their peach and pit with the group. In addition to this being a great way to express gratitude for the good things, it has opened the door for open family communication for things that aren’t going well. If welcomed by the person sharing the pit, problem solving and/or coping skills can be officered as a way to deal with the hard things they are facing.
Set aside the time to pause and take it all in!
Our fast-paced society puts so much emphasis on getting things done and being productive. Gratitude requires us to be proactive and intentional. Enjoying the little things can often illustrate that they are in fact the big things. We must rest in order to refuel and allow our bodies and brains to take in the joy that is circulating around us. When we rest, we can come back with clarity and a renewed spirit. Unplugging from electronics can be a great way to utilize this idea of a pause. It can also help to schedule time for self-care. We all know the saying; you can't pour from an empty cup. Practicing gratitude regularly requires awareness and protection of your cup so that it can be overflowing with goodness that will inevitably be passed on to others.
Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a well-known meditation training site, mentioned in one of her publications that gratitude as a ‘natural antidepressant’. The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily can be almost the same as medications. It produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level.
When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.