Gratitude. By definition, it’s a quality or characteristic of being thankful. It’s our readiness to show appreciation and return kindness. It helps us acknowledge the good in our lives. When we are exercising gratitude, we are encouraged to appreciate others and connect with something larger than ourselves. Gratitude infuses us with feelings of warmth, kindness, and appreciation for what we have.
Too often, we feel that gratitude is just an emotional response, but the truth is, it’s more.
In fact, whether we feel grateful is a choice we make every day. In this life, there are many things we aren’t in control of, but choosing how we look at a situation is one thing we definitely reign over.
In effect, we can choose to be grateful, or we can choose to be ungrateful.
When we choose gratitude, though, we are not just making a choice that will give us momentary warm and fuzzies. No, when we choose gratitude, we are actually choosing to rewire our brains for the better. This then benefits our health overall, and so gratitude really is a choice we make for our whole selves.
The Science Of Gratitude Is In!
Research continues to show that having an ‘attitude of gratitude’ benefits many things, especially our mental health. In fact, neuroscientists talk about gratitude acting as a natural antidepressant. In many people, the conscious effort to practice gratitude every day can have the same effects as pharmacological medication does for depression. Exercising gratitude through purposed efforts each day can produce feelings of contentment and happiness.
In fact, Positive Psychology.com says that “When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
By consciously practicing gratitude daily, we can help these neural pathways strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.”
Study after study shows that being grateful helps us release toxic feelings and can improve our sleep, reduce our pain, help regulate our stress, and is good for our overall mental health.
How Do I ‘Practice’ Gratitude?
‘Practicing gratitude’ doesn’t sound really new (it’s not), but maybe it sounds a bit well…awkward to you? Most of us would like to believe that we’re polite and kind and say our ‘Thank-yous!’ as we should.
But there’s more to practicing gratitude. To develop a character of gratitude, you make being grateful a habit.
Don’t be scared–it’s actually really easy to develop the habit. You can increase your daily gratefulness with very simple practices. Purposely compliment yourself at least once a day. Purposely compliment a coworker or family member at least once a day. Keep a gratitude journal in which you write down something positive that you have in your life or for which you are thankful, or simply write down the compliments you shared with yourself and others so you can remember how supported you are in this world.
Studies show that couples who express gratitude to one another consistently and often have more feelings of mutual trust, loyalty, and longer-lasting, more satisfying relationships. It is as easy as starting with a simple, “I appreciate you taking out the trash,” and before you know it, you might realize you have even more support and love than you know!
Choose Gratitude And Turn That Frown Upside Down
We can do things to elevate our moods and those things come in the choices we make about the world around us. We know that gratitude can create new pathways in our brains, and it can also trigger those feel-good hormones that can change our mood for the better.
So how do we get those feel-good hormones pumping? Again, it comes down to creating habits that move us to be present in and practice the act of being grateful with purpose. Here are a few ways to do that.
- Start your day naming five things you’re grateful for and end your day the same way. Don’t just rattle off the obvious–food, shelter, clothing. Of course, those are ALL things for which we are grateful, but we don’t want to lose the benefits of gratitude by making this exercise mundane and routine. Really feel the emotions behind what you’re grateful for. Many of my clients who do this say this exercise has helped them tremendously when it comes to their self-forgiveness work. It’s especially helpful if you wake up feeling exhausted or inclined to complain about not having enough sleep. Instead, train your brain to start the day with five things you’re feeling right then. For example, consider being grateful for the following:
- A super comfortable bed with blankets that keep you warm and cozy.
- A house that keeps you safe from the weather and other elements–when so many are homeless, this is not something we take for granted.
- The health and physical ability to move your body and stretch out that long morning stretch.
- The smell of coffee and the promise of delicious food you can eat for breakfast.
- A job or business that allows you to pay bills and put food on the table. Work you believe channels your talents and challenges you is also something for which many are truly grateful.
Starting each day like this–whether in your head or a morning journal like I keep–really changes your perspective of the entire day.
- Then, do the same thing at night. As you close your eyes and work on drifting off, reflect on your gratitude for the things that occurred during the day. Consider being grateful for the following as they apply in your life:
- You made it to all your destinations of the day safely.
- You were able to wear clothing you liked, and that kept you warm/cool, and comfortable.
- The weather was beautiful. Or the weather brought much-needed rain. Or the weather was gray and allowed the world to slow down a bit.
- You were able to earn money to do things you need to do and perhaps even want to do.
Once you’ve gotten in the habit of doing this, it’ll become like second nature, and you’ll even find you MISS it if you skip a morning or evening. (Truly, you will.)
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall….
Here comes my favorite part, though…have I mentioned that I love mirror work?
And that’s the best way to level this habit of gratitude up. Take gratitude to your mirror.
Some studies show we have about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Want to take a guess at how many of those are negative? Experts believe about 80% of those thoughts are negative.
This obviously affects us in ways we may not even know. If you’re like most people, you don’t often say nice things to yourself in the mirror. In fact, if you’re like most people, you’re probably pretty critical of yourself.
A gratitude attitude is a good way to change this and make a dent in that 80% of negative thoughts. Sharing that gratitude with yourself in the mirror is even better.
So start your morning walk-by the mirror with a, “Hey, your smile is great this morning!” or a, “This day is ALL you! You’ve worked for it!” or simply, “Hey body! We made it through another day and are up and at them to go again. Go us!”
You surely get the idea…but the goal is to have fun with this and be nice to yourself–be honest with yourself, and even if you don’t have anything kind to say about yourself (yet), just share what you’re grateful for out loud with yourself. It’s one thing to think about them or even write them, but when you speak them out loud, the words hold space in your heart and your soul.
Once you’ve gotten in the habit of sharing your gratitude with yourself, share it with the world. Share it with others around you and watch their worlds light up too. They say it only takes one small ripple to start a gigantic wave. Make your ripple of thanks be the precursor to a giant wave of gratitude for everyone you know!
I know these are some tough times, and finding ways to be grateful may seem hard. Would you let me know if any of these ideas resonated with you? Let me know what ideas you’re willing to try and how they work out for you. The more we share with each other, the more we grow together.
And if you’d like to learn more about gratitude and what benefits it has for us, check out this podcast with my friends and fellow life coaches Sakura Sutter and Rory Reich, and me.