Yup. It’s that time of year again.
The time when TV news stories, talk show chatter, magazine articles, commercials and charities will implore you to be thankful for all you have. And guess what? I’m going to do the same thing. Because just like eating your vegetables, being thankful is good for you.
I’m going to start by telling you WHY.
It turns out that feeling grateful not only benefits those on the receiving end of your appreciation, but it benefits you, too. In numerous studies conducted over the past 10 years, participants who consciously counted their blessings reported better mental and physical health.
That is, those who took the time to really think about what they appreciate in life—no matter their circumstances—said they were happier, healthier, and better able to face the tough times in life than their more negative counterparts.
Why is this the case?
Experts are just starting to unravel all the ways being grateful can change your health.
For starters, it changes your brain. For real. When we express and receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. These neurotransmitters enhance our mood immediately, giving us a “happy” boost. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can strengthen these neural pathways and may ultimately cultivate a permanent positive attitude.
Practicing gratitude changes us physically, too. Multiple studies have shown it changes our perception of pain, helps with stress regulation, boosts cardiac function, improves our quality of sleep, and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.
Emotionally, gratitude is a major attitude adjuster. Research has shown that gratitude reduces envy, facilitates positive emotions, and makes us more resilient. When we notice what we have, we’re less likely to compare ourselves with others, and less likely to want what we don’t have.
All this sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it isn’t magical thinking, it’s just a way of redirecting our thoughts. A type of mindfulness that draws attention to the good instead of the bad. (By the way, it works with our attitudes toward other people, too. We become more understanding when others are cranky or even downright unkind.)
So how does one begin a gratitude practice?
The tradition of naming things you are thankful for around the table is a good start, and one that you could keep going all through the year. In fact, how about making a habit of naming something before every meal?
Or keep a journal. Spend five minutes before bed to list three things that made you grateful to be alive that day. Make that list and check it twice. Or three times. Or reread it every day. Remind yourself often of all the good in your life.
Write thank-you notes to express your gratitude to others. This will remind you that there are good people in the world who do good things. When you can, express your gratitude face-to-face. Seeing the other person’s reaction is good reinforcement.
And finally, start your day with positive visualization. Imagine yourself going through the hours as a helpful, kind, understanding person, and imagine others treating you the same. This will set the tone for you to notice positive interactions with others all day long.
Here’s a positive thought to get you started:
It takes as little as four weeks to begin seeing and feeling the positive effects of cultivating gratitude, and it builds on itself through weeks, months and years to make you a permanently more positive person.
Until we meet…