Hint: It's much, much more powerful than you imagined.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” —Robert Brault
Gratitude is one of those things that is easy to dismiss as some “feel good”, “think positive” types of exercises that only hard-core spiritual people really believe in.
It can come across as too simplistic to really have any affect. Or it’s just too woo-woo for people who live in the “real world”.
Well thing again because there is research coming out that shows a daily practice of gratitude can be very powerful in your emotional well-being and even in your physical health.
Practicing gratitude for just a few minutes a day can:
Decrease stress, anxiety and depression
Improve your relationships
Improve your cardiovascular health
Decrease your levels of inflammation and cortisol
Paul Mills, a professor of medicine and public health at UC San Diego, did a study on people with varying degrees of heart damage and it turns out the higher their degree of gratitude in life the healthier they were.
Now that was only based on questionnaire’s so he did a follow-up study that measured their levels of inflammation and the group with higher levels of gratitude had lower levels of inflammation.
He found when people kept a simple gratitude journal and listed two or three things to be grateful for every day, their inflammation went down further and their heart rhythms improved. All from listing two or three things a day!
Other research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal correlates to better moods, less anxiety and depression and better sleep.
Studies have also shown that practicing gratitude raises level of happiness 25%
With gratitude you start to care more for things and take better care of them. We see that with material things. Someone is really grateful for their care so they keep it up and maintain it well.
What if you were grateful for your body and your life and the people around you? You will naturally grow to love these things more and cherish them and take better care of them.
It's a skill that you can learn with practice and its positive benefits will reach into all areas of your life. If you battle with negative thoughts or you feel like you're always dwelling on the problems in your life then the following article is for you.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein
Why should you practice gratitude?
A startling number of us spend our days focusing on the darker side of life. Worries, stress, anxieties, to-do lists and never done lists occupy our minds. It seems that the stress that assails us daily never seems to disappear. Because these negative influences have such a large impact on our happiness the natural tendency is to focus our attention on them in order to try to head off stress before it reaches us.
The problem is, this causes us to become problem-focused looking for possible negativity everywhere. In the process, we lose track of all of the positive things that are going on around us on a daily basis.
Gratitude can help switch your mindset from being focused on preventing negativity to a more positive, present-minded state of being. Your thoughts have a tendency to become your reality. If you can switch to a more positive, grateful mindset you'll be amazed at how many good things you begin to notice.
Do you ever notice when you get a new car you start to really notice the same car all over the place. That’s because your mind realizes this new purchase was important and it starts to focus on similar cars.
You tell your mind what to focus on. This is very powerful and is at the heart of a gratitude practice.
When you start a daily practice of listing things you are grateful for then your mind starts looking for more and more things to be grateful for instead of being mired in the mud of negative news.
The uncomfortable state that is anxiety takes you out of the present moment and thrusts you into a negative future. Depression, on the other hand, is often fixed in the past and comes on you when you focus on things that have happened to you.
A lot of us spend our days stuck in the things that have been and the things that have not yet happened. This means that we're not present. Living in the present moment, or the now helps to eliminate a lot of those negative emotions.
"Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out." John Wooden
When you feel grateful for what you have or for what is currently happening to you it draws you back into the present moment. This is important because the present is all we truly have. You can't live in either the past or the future because the past is gone and the future is 100% uncertain.
The present moment, on the other hand, is where you, at this moment are. It's where your kids are laughing, your partner is smiling and your favorite music is playing. The present moment contains everything that is good in our lives and gratitude helps you tap into this goodness.
When your happiness increases from practicing gratitude, you'll find that you sleep better at night, get sick less often and have greater compassion towards the people in your life. In addition, gratitude also helps to increase your happiness and decrease your stress. Happiness comes from what you already have.
People aren't happy thinking of what they need to have, they're only happy when they actually achieve it. When you can become grateful for the little things in life, you'll feel a surprising shift towards a more positive attitude and you'll feel happier overall.
For example, if you're stressed out about getting a promotion you could switch this to so that you're grateful that you have a job in this tough economy. Or, if you're worried that your house is too small you can switch this thought to becoming grateful that you have a roof over your head. This changes the emotion from stress and anxiety to one of happiness and positivity.
How do you begin a daily gratitude practice?
This all sounds great, but how exactly do you begin a daily gratitude practice? There are several things that you can do to increase the gratitude that you feel. Try one (or all) of the activities and tips below to experience the positive shift gratitude can make in your life.
1: Decide right now to have gratitude in your life.
Start looking for things to appreciate all around. “I’m grateful for my wonderful children”. “I’m grateful for my garden” “I’m grateful for this comfortable shirt”. “I love this warm blanket”
2: Start a gratitude journal
Get something to write on and every morning or night list three or more things on your gratitude list. Simple as that.
A lot of people chose either right after they wake up or right before they go to bed. When you first wake up you haven't had a chance to become stressed yet and your amygdala (or lizard brain) that's in charge of regulating flight or fight responses hasn't woken up yet.
This means that your brain is very receptive to changes in the early morning because it doesn't have its guard up yet. Before you go to bed is another great time because your subconscious mind will dwell on the things you're grateful for as you sleep.
3: Be grateful for different things every day
To help your brain become more positive and grateful try to choose things that you're grateful for that you've never noticed before. Finding new things to be grateful for will help train your brain to search wider and wider for areas of your life that are already fantastic that you can be grateful for.
4: Meditate on gratitude
Meditation is a great way to remove your mind from the stresses of everyday life. When your mind is less stressed you may find it easier to come up with things that you're grateful for. Sitting in silence with yourself can help you identify the great parts of your life. If silent meditation isn't your thing you can always do a guided gratitude meditation that helps you find things that you can be grateful for.
5: Replace negative thoughts
If you can catch yourself having a negative thought or in a moment of stress this is the perfect time to re-train your brain towards gratitude. Every time you have a negative thought ask yourself if there isn't something about the situation that you can be grateful for. It doesn't matter how big or how small the switch is, and it doesn't make your concern any less valid, it just helps you to teach your brain that there's a positive side to things as well.
For example, if you're sitting in traffic and you find yourself stressed out about getting to work on time you could instead say something like, "At least sitting here gives me a chance to listen to a little more of my favorite radio station". This thought doesn't take away your valid concern that you're going to be late for work, but it can make you a little happier to be in that situation.
Look for the positive in everything if you can.
6: Tell people how and why you appreciate them
So many people feel unloved and unappreciated. That they don’t matter. Watch how they light up when you tell them what you think and feel. Don’t ever assume that they already know how you feel.
7: Tell yourself how much you love yourself and appreciate who you are
This is especially powerful if you do it in the mirror. At first it will probably feel uncomfortable but that is a sign that you need to feel this self-love and self-appreciation.
8: Write thank you notes or emails
Gratitude, like anything, gets easier and better with practice. The more you can incorporate gratitude into your daily life, the easier it will come for you and the more positive you'll find yourself when you're faced with a tough situation.
This positivity will spread into all areas of your life improving your relationships, happiness, sleep and physical wellbeing. Try a few of the simple ideas above so that you can begin to lead a happier, more positive life!