Despite the stresses of our lives, each of us has so much to be grateful for. But how often do we stop and acknowledge this? Probably not enough.
We know that we struggle with this at AdventureWomen. Arguably it’s easier to be grateful around the holidays, but there is a growing field of science that lauds the benefits of practicing gratitude on a more regular basis. Studies have shown that it’s actually possible to rewire your brain simply by cultivating gratitude: that is, by expressing gratitude consistently, the molecular structure of your brain undergoes a change. Once you start acknowledging things you’re grateful for, your brain starts to look for more of those things. It’s a virtuous cycle with real and plentiful benefits.
WHAT IS “GRATITUDE”?
But what is gratitude, exactly? Quite simply, it’s the practice of being thankful—that is, taking note of people, events, and things you’re grateful for, and then experiencing and expressing that emotion. It sounds so easy, but we are often prone to dwelling on the negative rather than focusing on the good in our lives. In fact, cultivating gratitude is a powerful reinforcing cycle: it leads to mental strength, and mentally strong people are more likely to express gratitude.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PRACTICING GRATITUDE?
There are many benefits from regularly practicing gratitude including having a stronger overall sense of well-being and mental health, increased levels of happiness, better quality of sleep, and a host of other benefits:
- Showing appreciation is good manners, and thus is a good way to foster interpersonal relationships. Grateful people also display heightened sensitivity and empathy for other people, which leads to better relationships in general.
- Grateful people are healthier, happier, and generally have fewer physical complaints. They are more likely to take care of their health. They also experience better quality of sleep, which in turn leads to lower anxiety.
- Likewise, gratitude has positive mental health benefits by reducing toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, frustration, and regret by shifting our focus from something negative to something positive. Research confirms that gratitude increases levels of happiness and reduces feelings of depression.
- Not only does gratitude improve mental health, but it also increases mental strength. That is, it can help overcome trauma and improve resilience in the face of trauma.
- Finally, feelings of self-esteem tends to rise with gratitude.
HOW TO CULTIVATE GRATITUDE
What’s the most effective way of practicing gratitude? It turns out that of all the methods of doing this (e.g., writing in a gratitude journal, writing an essay, writing a letter, tracking it in an app for the more technologically savvy, or simply just meditative thinking) meditative thinking has the most significant impact. The next and almost equally effective (and most popular) is to keep a gratitude journal. Studies suggest that writing for 15 minutes per day, 1 to 3 times per week is a good way to start. But the best part? Even if you don’t communicate your gratitude to someone, the mere act of writing down or thinking about what you’re grateful for can help you shift your focus away from negative feelings and thoughts. And three weeks is long enough to notice a difference.
The key is to remember a positive experience, person, or thing and then enjoy the emotions that stem from it.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when trying to move in this direction:
- Be specific and elaborate about one thing in detail, rather than creating a sundry list of everything you’re grateful for.
- Focus on people who have made an impact on you, which has a more positive effect than focusing on things or objects.
- Try the reverse: subtraction. What would your life be like without that someone or something in it?
- View the good things as gifts, rather than taking them for granted.
- Surprises (events or things) tend to elicit stronger feelings of gratitude.
- Commit to the journal, but don’t overdo it. The sweet spot is writing 1 to 3 times per week, rather than writing daily. This helps to avoid becoming immune to positive events or things – and helps savor surprises.
So whether you write in a journal, track the things you’re grateful for in an app, or just take a few moments to silently acknowledge what you have, cultivating gratitude is one small but simple way to transform your life. Go for it!
A few suggestions for further reading:
“The Science of Gratitude,” https://www.happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/
“Six Ways Gratitude Affects Your Brain,” https://www.bustle.com/articles/123590-6-ways-gratitude-affects-your-brain
“Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude
“The Grateful Brain,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain
“Neuroscience Reveals How Gratitude Literally Changes Your Brain to Be Happier,” https://ideapod.com/neuroscience-reveals-gratitude-literally-changes-brain-happier/