Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
With Thanksgiving upon us, I thought it suiting to write on gratitude. Gratitude. This word is thrown around a lot in our culture. Of course from a young age we learn that it’s important to count our blessings and be thankful for what we have. Recent studies even show that grateful people have higher levels of subjective wellbeing, meaning they are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and relationships.
When faced with challenges, grateful people generally cope better, as they are less likely to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as avoidance, self-blame, and substance abuse.
Grateful people even sleep better – and researchers equate this to thinking less negative and more positive thoughts before going to sleep!
So what are we waiting for? And why aren’t they teaching gratitude in school?
The truth is, in our busy and fast-paced world, where the nature of our lifestyle is more stressful than ever, I think it’s easy to put gratitude on the backburner. More pressing needs hog our focus, like the bills that need to be paid, meetings we’re running late for, or whether we put enough change in the parking meter for example. In those moments of stress, it’s easy to be swept away and into survival mode, however, if we could all take 3 minutes of our day and commit them to feeling grateful, I do believe our cumulative stress levels would plummet.
So how can we incorporate gratitude in our lives so we can reap all the benefits? It’s easy. Here’s a few simple strategies I use that have actually completely changed the way I view my life:
- Before sleep, I try to think of three things in my day that were good. The beauty of this is sometimes I catch myself thinking of the most random moments
throughout my day that I may have otherwise forgotten. Like the exchange I had with the barista when I ordered my coffee. Or how stunning the leaves looked on my run. This invokes a feeling of warmth and wellbeing, I try to hold that feeling and enjoy it once more before drifting off to sleep.
- Look up at the sky. Whether it’s at stars, the moon, or clouds on a cloudy day or evening, it reminds us how cool it is that we are alive right now. It takes us back to the present, the bigger picture (that those daily stressors don’t really matter), and what matters is that we are here.
- When I am confronted with a challenge, I try to find the positive aspects of the issue. In truth, nothing is fully good or fully bad in life, it’s about perspective. You can always find a silver lining to a bad situation if you try. This allows me to bring fresh perspective to the issue at hand and better deal with it than be in a state of non-resistance and discontent.
- Express gratitude. Thank those in your life for what they do for you. Or just simply for being in your life. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Let people know you’re thankful, whether it’s the stranger holding the door for you, or having gratitude for a loved one’s presence and support in your life. Not only will you feel warm and fuzzy, but so will they. And this will only help your relationship grow.
The power of gratitude to transform your life is remarkable. However, unless we all take a moment out of our day to actively practice it, we will not reap the benefits. I’m serious here. It only takes a few minutes – even seconds – out of your day and before you know it, you may just feel a new spring in your step. You’ll realize one day that you’re practicing gratitude naturally outside of the allotted gratitude exercise time. At some point, gratitude just becomes a habit, or an attitude, and comes as naturally as stressing out about the parking meter used to be! Give it a try, and see what happens.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Jane’s interest in an holistic approach to health began as it does for most: with her own health concerns and journey towards attaining optimal wellness for herself. Through her own health journey, she has developed a deep respect for a holistic approach to health that takes into account all aspects of one’s being – physical, mental, and emotional.
1 McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127.
2 Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Linley, P. A. (2007). Coping style as a psychological resource of grateful people. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26, 1108–1125.
3 Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66, 43-48