People are seeing the benefits of gratitude whether its effect on goals, relationships, and now, health. Experts agree that practicing the attitude of gratefulness can result in a healthier body both body and mind.
With this information, it appears, Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated daily rather than once a year. The word gratitude may have different meanings depending on the context, but the clinical definition of gratitude is “The appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.”
In other words, gratitude is appreciating what you have or have received whether it’s tangible or intangible. It means, recognizing the good in life.
Benefits of Gratitude
According to a brain and mind expert, Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, “If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”
Just like what Dr. Murali Doraiswamy said, multiple studies link being grateful to psychiatric and primary health. Based on these studies the practice of gratefulness is connected to:
- Improving emotional resiliency due to reduced stress and emotional distress
- Better sleep
- Improved cardiovascular health resulting in reduced mortality due to sudden heart attacks of people with congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease
- Enhances the mood neurotransmitters, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine as well as inflammatory cytokines, testosterone, oxytocin, cortisol, blood pressure, immune function, and blood sugar
- Better self-care such as getting regular exercise, regular health check-ups, and eating healthy
Gratefulness doesn’t only have positive effects on one’s health but also other life aspects such as:
- Romantic relationships, which gives a greater depth in connectedness between couples and satisfaction in the relationship
- Improves patience, reduces impulsive actions and strengthens willpower, leading to better decisions
- Increases joy, happiness, and life satisfaction, and improves mental health by reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety, initiating a sense of well-being
- Reduces materialism and helps overcome the desire for material things, which is one of the primary sources of unhappiness and frustration
- Improves performance in work
According to studies, exercising gratitude such as writing down the things you’re thankful for and paying it forward lead to neural changes that create a positive feedback loop, which increases your chances and ability to experience gratitude in the future. Meaning, feeling grateful is strengthened through feeling and doing of it.
Gratefulness increases joy and sustained happiness
In a study conducted by the Harris Poll Happiness Index, only 1 in 3 Americans says they’re “very happy.” The survey says, above half of the subjects report they are frustrated about work, while 1 in 4 people claim they do not enjoy life at all.
When a few of us think happiness is miles away from reality, science agrees that with just a small tweak in the perspective and behavior can result in significant changes to our joy, resulting in boosted happiness that is long-term, sustained as well as delivering genuine life satisfaction. Gratitude is the key to a joyful life, which is also neutrally linked to generosity – and generosity, as suspected, also augments happiness.
If you think you need some happiness boost, you may consider practicing being grateful every day. One easy way to do it is to keep a journal where you can write down all the things you appreciate in life.
In one study, a participant who kept a gratitude journal and wrote down the causes of his gratefulness four times weekly for three weeks had improved symptoms of depression and stress. The participant’s happiness scores also increased. When starting off on your journal, here are a few tips you can use:
- Focus on the good in people. This way, you will feel a supported life, and it reduces unnecessary anxiety
- Focus and appreciate what you have rather than what you don’t have
- Refrain from comparing yourself to others. Otherwise, it will damage your sense of security.
For each negative emotion, replace it with three positive feelings.
A psychologist and a researcher of positive-emotions, Barbara Fredrickson, said, most Americans experience two positive emotions for each negative one. Apparently, the 2:1 positivity ratio can barely keep anyone going. Therefore, according to Fredrickson’s research, 3:1 ratio is what we need to flourish emotionally.
Therefore, below are a few steps that you can use to strengthen gratitude and improve happiness. Keep in mind that the key is consistency. Choose which methods suit you the most, and make sure to stick to them weekly or better yet, adhere to the practices in a daily manner. You can do it by sticking notes to the bathroom mirror, or setting reminders on your calendar. It’s up to you how you will practice gratitude but make sure it’s part of your essential to-do list.
The foundation of gratitude and happiness is really taking time to acknowledge your positive emotions. Experience this good feeling and let it flow and exist; don’t minimize or try to suppress it. Embracing your positive emotions will strengthen your genuine gratitude about life, resulting in heartfelt joy.
Practical ways to stronger gratitude and enhanced happiness
There are many ways to practice gratitude. The steps below are from experts and researchers who studied ways to improve your gratitude quotient. One example of an effective exercise came from Robert Emmons, University of California’s professor of psychology, who discussed our ability to receive. According to Emmons, it’s typical to gain joy from gift giving, but there are times we experience a negative emotion when receiving gifts. A few reasons for that negative emotion is worrying about the gift’s cost or the feeling that we don’t deserve such an expensive gift. According to Emmons, a practice of appreciation involves feeling joyful towards receiving gifts.
Below are more practices of gratitude that you can adapt in your life:
Writing “thank you” notes
When writing ‘thank you’ notes, make sure to be specific about the things you are grateful for someone. For example, mention that you are thankful for the effort or the cost – focus on the person you’re giving thanks to, and not yourself. To strengthen your gratitude, make sure to write appreciation notes for every gift you receive or for every act of kindness you experience. You may even write thank you notes to appreciate a person’s existence in your life.
Say thank you as often as possible
Saying thank you or expressing your appreciation is similar to the practice above, only verbal. Just like the previous practice, focus on the other person instead of yourself. In one research, it showed that “other-praising” phrases are more beneficial than using “self-beneficial” phrases. For example, when thanking your partner for a certain effort, try saying, “thank you for doing this,” rather than “you make me happy when you do this.”
Say your grace for each meal
Saying grace at each meal doesn’t only give you a chance to practice being grateful every day, it also deepens your connection with food. Although it’s a great way to honor your relationship with the divine, you don’t have to be too religious when saying grace. You can just say, “I am so grateful for this food, and I appreciate all the work and time spent for it.”
Have a change of perception
Disappointment or struggling when things are not going your way is a significant source of stress, which have been widely known to affect health and life span.
People who reach the age of 100 or centenarians, firmly believe that avoiding stress is the most significant component of a long and healthy life. However, in life, it’s true that experiencing stress is inevitable. Therefore, to battle this negative experience, the best way is to manage stress, so it doesn’t wear you down over time.
The most effective way to handle stress is to let go. Learning to let go, however, takes practice which you can do daily or whenever stress is triggered. To be able to let go of negativity, the foundational belief is to realize that the way you feel about the experience has little or nothing to do with the experience itself. It all boils down to your perception of the event. Ancients believe that an event is either good nor bad; it’s your belief of the experience that upsets or stresses you.
According to Ryan Holiday’s book, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living, “The Stoics are saying, ‘This happened to me,’ is not the same as, ‘This happened to me and that’s bad.’ They’re saying if you stop at the first part, you will be much more resilient and much more able to make some good out of anything that happens.”
Mindfulness to your actions
Non-verbal actions such as hugging and smiling are ways to express gratitude, empathy, excitement, and support. These actions also trigger positive emotions.
Praying or mindful meditation
Saying thanks in your prayers is also a great way to express appreciation. Mantras are an effective way to keep focused, but you can also focus on something that you experience at the moment such as a pleasant smell or the cool breeze.
Perform an evening ritual
A good nightly ritual for the family suggested by Dr. Alison Chen is to create a bedtime routine with the family where every member will say out loud all their gratitude.
A gratitude jar is also an excellent idea for the family. It’s where the family writes notes on a piece of paper and places the pieces of paper in the jar daily. Then, every once or twice a month, the family takes out all the letters and read out loud all the notes.
Spend money on activities than on material things
“People feel fortunate, and because it’s a diffuse, untargeted type of gratitude, they’re motivated to give back to people in general,” postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago, Amit Kumar said.
Kumar is a co-author of a study that claims to spend money on activities does not only enhance gratefulness more than buying things, it also motivates generosity.
Realizing that you have enough
Happiness can be found in recognizing and being grateful that you have enough. Many people who embraced a minimalist lifestyle believe in this notion. Excessive expenditure can lead to over-working and struggling in finances, which are significant contributors to depression and anxiety. In able to reduce spending, the key is to buy less and appreciate more. Be grateful for what you have. Don’t let advertising control you and what will make you happy. Realize that you have everything that you need.
People who learned to adapt to a minimalist lifestyle claim they have less time spent for work that enables them to pay the bills and free up time for doing what they love, their creative pursuits, and time to take care of their health, which improves happiness and satisfaction in life. Knowing what is “enough” is the fundamental part of this perspective shift. It’s okay to consume, but not unnecessary shopping and meaningless spending.
Most of the time, life satisfaction doesn’t come from shopping. Over-spending never fills the void that you feel like you have in your life. Material things never fill the void, but rather and more often, it responds to personal connection, love, and experiences with a great purpose and passion. Therefore, identify your real needs emotionally and spiritually, and focus on fulfilling those needs without needing to shop.
Be with nature
Several studies have shown the benefits of spending time with nature to our well-being. Apart from enhancing feelings of gratitude and connected, nature also has a way to put things in perspective.
According to one research, being with nature reduces rumination or having obsessive thoughts — an endless loop of thinking to find answers to problems without ever getting any good solution. Ruminating happens in the part of our brain called, subgenual prefrontal cortex, which regulates negative emotions, which is associated with increased risk for depression and anxiety.
Another study also says that even just the sound of nature affects the brain in a good way. It reduces the fight or flight instincts, and it activates rest and digest system. Furthermore, listening to nature can help you recover from stress faster and easier.
“Tapping” or using the tool, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is psychological acupressure that can help you during emotional challenges such as lack of gratitude. It involves tapping the energy meridians used in acupuncture that can restore balance, peace, healing and can help you get rid of negative thoughts and feelings. In the video below, Julie Schiffman demonstrates how you can perform tapping for gratitude.
Enjoy this video that goes into further detail on the subject: