Cultivating a Gratitude Practice

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With Thanksgiving on the horizon, and the holidays in our sights, it makes me ponder how the Thanksgiving holiday began.

Here are are now, about 400 some odd years later, and we're STILL learning that the simple act of giving thanks and gratitude is truly is great for our brain and our bodies.

The word "gratitude" literally means grace, gracious, and even gratefulness. It is known as an appreciation for all that a person receives in their life. With gratitude, people can refocus on what great things they have, instead of what it is that they are lacking in their lives. When we acknowledge the goodness in our lives, it can be contagious in the way that it often helps others recognize that the source of their goodness lies at least somewhat outside of themselves. This can connect them to something larger—other people, nature, the universe, or some other higher power.

Positive psychology research explains that gratitude can be linked to greater happiness when it's practiced regularly. When a person expresses gratitude regularly, it helps them feel positive emotions, think about good memories, improve their health, and handle stressful situations with ease.

Other scientific studies have documented a wide range of benefits that come with gratitude. These are available to anyone who practices being grateful. Check these out!

  • Gratitude facilitates contentment: 
    • Practicing gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing contentment and life satisfaction. It also improves mood by enhancing feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. Conversely, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.
  • Gratitude promotes physical health: 
    • Studies suggest gratitude helps to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, reduce symptoms of illness, and make us less bothered by aches and pains. 
  • Gratitude enhances sleep: 
    • Grateful people tend to get more sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more rested upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, instead of counting sheep count your blessings.

 

IDEAS FOR CULTIVATING gratitude:

Although some people may be born with a gift for expressing gratitude, anyone can learn how to do it. And this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. Here are some really easy, and small ways to cultivate gratitude:

  • Write a thank-you note:
    • You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of his or her effect on your life. If this seems corny, then seize opportunities to go beyond a perfunctory thank you email — after having been invited to dinner or after spending time with a friend, write a heartfelt note. Every so often, write one to yourself!
  • Thank someone mentally: 
    • No time to write? It may help to take five minutes or so just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank him or her.
  • Keep a gratitude journal: 
    • Make a habit of writing down thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day. Sharing these thoughts with a loved one is even better. I like to write three things every day. First I start with writing about something I was grateful for yesterday. Then I write something I did for myself today that I'm grateful for. Lastly, I think about something I'm grateful to have in the future. Thinking about things you are grateful for in the future can create such a positive mindset.
  • Count your blessings: 
    • Pick a time every week to sit down and think about your blessings in your life. Reflect on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — say three things — in all different parts of your life that you will identify each week. Be specific and think about how you truly felt when something good happened to you.
  • Meditate: 
    • Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase, like a MANTRA (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.). You don't have to meditate for a long period of time, if you have trouble sitting still. Taking 5 minutes to close your eyes, focus on your breath, and think of one thing you are grateful for boosts my mood whenever I'm feeling down.

Coming up in November, look for a gratitude challenge that Dr. Rebecca will be implementing on her Facebook page! Follow along, participate, and get grateful for all of the wonderful things in your life!

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Rebecca Laketags