It is usually taught or passed down to us through our parents and families and is as commonplace and unacknowledged as the kitchen sink. This inherited gem is the ability to feel and express gratitude.
While we may think this is simply polite behavior, studies have found that gratitude goes far, far deeper and has an incredible impact on the way we feel and perceive our world. Feeling and expressing gratitude has been found to allow people to experience more optimism, joy, enthusiasm and other positive emotions. It does this through lowering levels of cortisol, increasing positive relationships and reducing instances of anxiety and depression.
Some hypotheses on the physiological and psychological impact of expressing gratitude find links to feelings of higher levels of social support; in acknowledging and being thankful for the relationships we have we are more aware of our friendships and communities. Gratitude has also been associated with lower blood pressure, improved immunity, better sleep and even increasing engagement in exercise. Expressing this emotion has a significant effect on our ability to cope with various difficult situations, and alters biases and perspectives to the positive. For this reason practicing gratitude has become adopted in clinical psychology and is used in prescribed exercises to improve patients’ well-being.
What exactly is gratitude?
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
~ John Milton
Robert Emmons, regarded as a leading scientific expert on gratitude, sees it as a relationship-strengthening emotion which is both an affirmation of goodness in the world and the acknowledgement that there are sources of goodness outside of ourselves. In other words, gratitude is a conscious focus on and appreciation of the positive aspects of life and in this sense allows us to experience a sense of hopefulness and view the world with optimism.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence views gratitude as “a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures” which can be cultivated in anyone by acknowledging the lessons and impact of both the good and the bad.
Gratitude can be expressed in almost every situation in your life; for example when you wake up in the morning and acknowledge the house that sheltered you, the bed you slept on, the sheets that kept you warm and the body you live in that has allowed you to wake and perceive the world. To get to the point where you are automatically and more frequently experiencing gratitude for simple moments in life, it can be beneficial to practice expressing gratitude through simple routine exercises.
The benefits of practicing gratitude has been examined in multiple studies, one of which was a 21-day gratitude intervention which resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, increased social connectedness, increased optimism, and improved sleep in comparison to a control group. Here are some science-based and general activities for incorporating more gratitude into your day:
- Keep a gratitude journal: record three to five things for which you’re grateful every day or week. Routinely writing in your gratitude journal will help you realize there is more and more to be grateful for each day, week and month. You will also have the benefit of looking back over previous notes and sensing just how lovely your life is and can be.
- Keep a gratitude jar: A cute twist on the gratitude journal, see this as a bank you can continuously contribute to of lovely reminders that things aren’t always so bad! Use special note paper or a particular ink pen to create special notes for yourself.
- Gratitude letter: Write a letter to someone else thanking them for something that you really valued or thanking them for just being them. See it as a pass-it-forward activity in gratitude!
- Meditation and yoga: Meditating or engaging in yoga are two ways in which we can express gratitude to our own minds and bodies, reminding ourselves of our inherent worth and capability and being thankful for the ability to think and be present in the world. Thank your body from head to toe, focusing on each joint, muscle, and hair - there is no better way to compliment yourself!
- Imagine your life without: Sometimes we don’t know what we have until it’s gone. To appreciate more people and parts of your life, imagine your life without something you may take for granted and you may find greater joy and appreciation of your everyday. You can even go a step further and take a break from something that is giving you less joy than it used to; this can help you renew your ability to see its value.
- Simply say thanks: Say it out of the blue and really mean it. Send a text, make a phone call, knock on the door, pop your head around the office divider...think about and acknowledge how people can go out of their way to be helpful and kind.
- Savor meals: Before and during eating, consider where the food on your plate has come from and how fortunate you are to be able to nourish yourself and others. Think about how your body will absorb vitamins and minerals to keep you alive and healthy.
- Be mindful in the mundane: gratitude can and is best practiced in mundane everyday tasks. Take a moment to thank the people that you work with or serve you throughout the day.
- Notice your environment: The weather, the grass, the trees, strangers on the street, stillness in the air...It may surprise you how focusing briefly on what’s around you can make you feel a sense of appreciation and joy.
- Breathe: Another meditative practice but one that is also incredibly powerful, notice your breath and the sheer brilliance of the body’s ability to keep you alive.
- Donate: There are most likely numerous causes that align with your personal values and charities working hard to impact social change. Express your gratitude and support by donating to a group or charity. Selfless acts are another version of the expression of gratitude.
We hope you can take some of these tips and put them into practice in your everyday to realign yourself with what is important and what is valuable to you.
We are so thankful for you taking the time to read our article on gratitude and always appreciate your perspective and input! Let us know in the comments how you practice and experience gratitude daily.