Some people pray before each meal, some give thanks for the nutrition received, and others eat in between zoom meetings without even looking at their food, but did you know that this simple act of gratitude could benefit your mental and physiological health?
How often do you think about gratitude?
Is it a daily practice or just something you think about on holidays like Thanksgiving?
Did you know that gratitude could improve your overall health?
What is Gratitude?
According to an article from Psychiatry, a peer reviewed journal, gratitude is defined as “the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.”
Gratitude, gratefulness, thankfulness, appreciation... I’m sure these words are not new to you, but maybe you haven’t thought about them in relation to your mental and physical health.
I love tools like this!
Gratitude is free, a relatively simple practice, and beneficial for people of all ages and life-stages. In this article I'd like to share some of the research around gratitude and suggest some gratitude practices you can add to benefit your life.
According to Paul Mills, PhD, profesor of family medicine and public health at UCSD, living a life full of gratefulness can reduce depression, stress, and anxiety which in turn can reduce the risk of heart disease. Yes, please! I think we can all benefit from a little less stress, depression, anxiety, and definitely move away from a risk of heart disease. Can you believe it's possible by simple feeling gratitude for the things you already have? You can read about the study he conducted to find that Gratitude May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease in this NPR article.
In the past few weeks we’ve talked about several practices that offer benefits similar to this. Relaxation is great for allowing our bodies to heal and take a break from the fight or flight response. Simple movements can extend our life expectancy and strengthen our bodies and Humor is a natural way to deal with stress and laughter that can improve your overall health!
Adding gratitude to that list is a great way to proactively protect against stress and depression. It’s also shown that people who are more grateful have a stronger support system. In combination, these practices (and they do take practice😅) will build on each other and help us live a more holistically, healthy life.
Remember to practice!
As I always said in my yoga classes, “it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.” So let’s practice gratitude and reap the rewards.
How do we start building this healthy habit? Here are 5 ideas that you can try now.
- Write a six-word memoir about what you're Grateful for.
In November of 2020 The New York Times put out a call to readers to submit short statements of gratitude in the form of the six-word memoir. They said things like “My parents live two blocks away.”, “Sunny mornings, a window facing east.”, and “Toddler sees Audrey Hepburn, says “Mama!””
Try writing these out in a journal once a day, once a week, or once a month. Please share yours with us on social media and inspire your friends to share their own versions.
Furry kittens, loving husband, healthy children - Jessica 8/17/2021
- Make it a family practice
I’ve made it a habit in our family to practice gratitude when we sit down for dinner. We consider our meals and where they came from. We express gratitude for the store we bought it from, the truck drivers who transported it, the farmers who grew it, etc etc. It helps us all appreciate our meals more and eat intentionally.
- Use a Gratitude App
There are a variety of apps out now that provide prompts and reminders to record moments you are grateful for. Many even allow you to add pictures. One great option is simply called Grateful. Let me know if you check it out and find it helpful!
- Stop using “Thank You” as an automatic reaction and instead use those words with intentionality.
In this article, Stephanie Domet talks about the benefits of gratitude and how to build your capacity for gratitude. She suggests observing how many times you say thank you in a day. Do you truly feel thankful every time? Choose one of those times and stop for a moment. Analyse your feelings and consider what and who you are grateful for at that moment. The point is not to stop saying thank you, but instead to say it more genuinely. I have pretty good manners and often jump to say thank you, so this is a challenge I'm definitely focusing on
- Go old-school and start a paper gratitude journal
I know it’s a digital world, but I love pen on paper. If you do too, this one may resonate with you. Many people spend a few minutes first thing in the morning or last thing before bed listing out a few things they are grateful for. This daily practice really helps gratitude become a habit. If you don’t know where to start, try a few of these prompts!
- What was the best thing that happened in your day today?
- In what ways would your younger self be proud of you now?
- Who or what helped you get to where you are today?
- What service workers have made your life better?
- List a few people who have a positive effect on your life
- What is something you are proud of?
- What is something small that you are grateful for?
- What is something big that you are grateful for?
However you go about it, gratitude is a great activity to add to your day and soon enough you will start to feel the benefits.
Benefits of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude may begin to improve the quality of your relationships. Think about the last time you were given a gift. Was your gut reaction to brush it off saying “you didn’t have to do that” or “this was unnecessary"? Your friend probably spent time and effort thinking about you and you may have inadvertently diminished that experience through your words. What if instead you were able to really feel grateful and express that to your friend through a genuine thank you? I bet both you and your friend would feel happier and your relationship would grow stronger in the end.
Gratitude can also boost your self-esteem! When you look in the mirror, do you point out all the flaws, or can you be thankful for the way that your body helps you move through the world? I know this isn’t easy; like most things, it takes practice. Just try it! If you start affirming at least one aspect of yourself, gradually it will become more natural, change your perception, and eventually improve your self-esteem.
Gratitude can improve your social life. Think about it… would you rather hang out with the friend who can’t stop complaining and always seems to have another dramatic story to tell, or the friend who has a more positive outlook on life, full of gratitude? Hanging out with friends is beneficial for your health on so many levels.
(If you want to learn more about the benefits of community, check out my blog article: Is Hanging Out Healthy?)
Can I Develop a Gratitude Practice?
Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? It’s also known as the frequency illusion and it’s the idea that once you start thinking about something (like red cars) you see that thing everywhere (all of a sudden it seems like everyone has a red car)!
They call it an illusion because there are not really any more red cars than before, you just notice them now. I think gratitude is a little like this. If you dwell on the negative parts of your day, all of a sudden everything feels hard and stressful. However, if you spend time focusing on feeling grateful for the little things, you may start noticing the little things add up to big things and soon enough you appreciate new things around every corner!
Try it! Pick one of the 5 gratitude practices and start today. Let us know what you feel grateful for on any one of these platforms: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and share how it has affected your well being.
Your Wellness Muse,
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