Gratitude: Giving Thanks Beyond Thanksgiving
There seems to be a lot more talk about gratitude around the holidays, but what happens when we make it a daily habit—beyond Thanksgiving? Gratitude is one of the most positive and powerful habits we can add to our day. It can start as a practice just for us…but if done consistently, all the people in our lives will experience the benefits.
What is a gratitude practice?
It is a shift in mindset. It’s about allowing our gripes and grievances to take a backseat and focusing instead on what we appreciate and are thankful for in our lives. The good stuff. The big and small stuff that makes life so pleasurable. All those things that keeps us going and moving forward. It’s an active choice of how and what we will spend our emotional and mental energy on throughout the day. It helps to keep us mindful and aware so we don’t get bogged down with the negative stuff that distracts and disrupts our thoughts and moods.
How powerful is an attitude of gratitude?
Research by Dr. Robert Emmons, Professor at University of California, Davis, found the benefits for the daily practice of expressing gratitude include:
- Increased happiness, joy, life satisfaction, resiliency, and stronger relationships
- Decreased anxiety, depression, and social isolation
- The practice of gratitude helped to improve individuals’ management of their own emotions
- People who express gratitude regularly experienced improved sleep and strengthened immune system, therefore, they were sick less often and with less physical complaints
Sounds good, right? (and for my pessimists…almost too good to be true, right?!)
I would never say that I was an overly optimistic person. But I am eternally hopeful. And it seems like it took me an exceptionally long time to figure out that grumbling about what I did not have—actually never actually made me feel better or got me closer to any of my goals. Trudging along my own path of self-growth I kept hearing about gratitude. In trainings, in counseling journal articles, from colleagues, Ted Talks, you name it…it kept popping up. My clients who were going to AA would even call out other clients in group on the need to embrace an attitude of gratitude in recovery. It was seemingly everywhere. But I was not listening. One day it struck me. Expressing gratitude only on special occasions or when a counselor gives out a handout isn’t enough. It needs to be a daily habit to see results. I tested out my theory of needing a daily practice to see results.
I began incorporating gratitude at the end of my day to let go of any seemingly rotten events that occurred over the course of my waking hours. But then I had another shift. What if I started my day with gratitude? Could that actually set the tone for my day? Beginning my day with positive vibes starts my day off right. And seems to help me breeze through my day without too many roadblocks. Don’t get me wrong…there are still frustrations and annoyances that pop up (that’s life!) but I don’t stay stuck in the funk of a rotten event. I was amazed at how gratitude has transformed my days.
And it is so simple to begin a daily practice of Gratitude!
5 quick tips for practicing gratitude:
1. Send a quick “Thank You”
Send a thank you note, an email or text to someone who had a personal and positive impact on your life. Writing is a way of making our feelings more concrete. Remembering and writing down impactful moments, we experience the warm fuzzies from the first time all over again (this is in due to stimulating the release of our feel good neurotransmitters: endorphins, dopamine and serotonin). Thanking someone for their positive impact reaffirms the positives for us and gives a wonderful gift back to someone who has touched our lives.
2. Keep a “Gratitude Journal”
All my non-writers are groaning, I am sure. But this isn’t the same as journaling on your blocks or past hurts. This is simply jotting down 3-5 things that you are grateful for in your life. Peppermint mocha non-dairy coffee creamer, my son’s laugh when my daughter is playing with him, a good night’s sleep, the chatter of the birds before sunrise. The things you find yourself grateful for do not have to be grand events or to things to impress others. Just the things that make you smile, bring you joy or are thankful to experience. Try to challenge yourself to use different items that you are grateful for each day. On days that everything seems to suck…review past entries…something will pop up and seem impactful and get your positive vibe flowing again.
3. Be open and aware
Practice Mindfulness. This is easy to start. When you are hurrying from your car to the office; listen to the sharp click of your heels hitting the pavement, hear the birds in the tress, feel the breeze on your skin, notice the sun peeking through the clouds. This will keep you in the present and help reduce the intensity of any anxiety about the future and sadness about the past. Be aware and acknowledge all of the good things that happen (big or small) throughout your day–as they happen. Like the lady who thanked you for holding open the door at the store or your partner surprising you with takeout. Silently acknowledge your awareness of what transpired and its impact on your emotions or thoughts.
4. Share it with others
At the end of your day have a conversation with another person about their favorite part of their day; this can be with your children, partner, other family members or close friends. Share your favorite part. Live alone? Share it with your pet. Don’t have a pet? Get one—just kidding! Simply share it aloud. Or add it to your Gratitude Journal. It helps us to remember and focus on the good of the day. Releasing those neurotransmitters that make us feel happy and content. And helps us to put the not-so-good occurrences into perspective and let go of those parts. Sharing in this manner with friends or family also helps to foster healthy communication and closeness–another win!
5. Shift your focus
Pause, take a breath, and re-examine what’s going on. Take a break from old negative thoughts or habits. Such as, “why does nothing, ever, go right in my life?!”. This might be a default thought after stubbing your toe, spilling your coffee on your pants and hitting all the red lights on your way to work. It may have been a less than desirable series of events but it is unrealistic that NOTHING goes right, EVER. Try seeing the other the other side of events; seek to focus on the positives. Remember the laughter and commiserating with your best work buddy about the follies of your morning? Yeah, that was good. She is always there to listen to your crazy stories and always up for a fresh cup of coffee. Ahhh, that feels better already.
6. # 6 is a bonus…Remember to smile.
Are you ever waiting to check out at the grocery store; thinking you are going to lose your mind over the length of the line. And then you see a toddler staring at you with a tiny smile…you smile back and then they give you the most gorgeous smile…and you can’t help it; you find a bigger smile is on your face…all the complaints about the slow checker or bagger fade, no more hearing the ticking of the clock as you wait your turn. All because of a smile. In that subtle and brief exchange, your body has released those feel good neurotransmitters again and whether you are aware of it or not—your body has relaxed a bit, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Yep, smiling is good way to experience gratitude too.
Retrain your brain
Want to put a plan into place for experiencing the benefits of gratitude? There are loads of resources out there about gratitude.
Need a little gentle guidance in the finding one to start? Check out Robert Emmons’ book, “Gratitude Works: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity”.
Or get in touch with me…we can work on it together! firstname.lastname@example.org