Gratitude is spectacularly powerful in its ability to change people, relationships and brains. The science is incontrovertible.
With the plethora of articles and blog posts written extolling the benefits of a consistent gratitude practice, you’d think that everyone and her mother would be on board with this easy happiness life hack.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to make gratitude your new BBF — and a daily practice. Not just at your Thanksgiving dinner table round robin.
Research shows that gratitude can improve our general well-being, increase resilience, strengthen social relationships, and reduce stress and depression.
The more grateful we are, the greater our overall well-being and life satisfaction.
Gratitude is shown to strengthen our immune system, lower blood pressure, and promote better sleep. Research shows that we become more alert and more generous, compassionate, and happier.
Grateful people also have a greater capacity for joy and positive emotions.
If that’s what gratitude is laying down, I’m all in for picking it up.
Gratitude is important because it involves noticing the goodness in the world.
It doesn’t mean being blind to the complicated messiness of life that can upset all of us from time to time.
Gratitude makes sure that in the midst of the things that generate negative feelings, we don’t lose sight of the good.
The following highlights capture much of what blogger Karen Young writes about gratitude which you can read in it’s entirety right here.
Gratitude strengthens our connections with people when we acknowledge they’ve done something meaningful for us.
It’s an open-hearted, deliberate recognition of the generosity of the giver. Of course, we can also be grateful for broader things that haven’t necessarily been ‘given’ to us by someone. Like our health, a safe home, or friendships.
Expressing gratitude toward others lets them know we don’t take things for granted.
Showing gratitude for the less tangible things in our lives stops us from being seen as ‘entitled’ or an ‘ingrate.’
Gratitude shows that we’re good to be in a relationship with, and that we appreciate certain things, without expecting them.
Gratitude reinforces generous behavior.
It reinforces generosity from both the giver and from the receiver.
When there is an open display of gratitude in relationships, both people are more likely to repeat the giving, and the open-hearted receiving. The effect of this is not only from person to person, but can ripple out into the world.
Antonia Damasia, Director of the BCI and Dornsife Neuroimaging Institute at Unversity of Southern California and professor of psychology and neurology, reminds us:
Gratitude rewards generosity and maintains the cycle of healthy social behavior.
Gratitude keeps good feelings lingering longer.
Humans are wired with a negativity bias. We’re designed to scan our environment for potential dangers to protect us. To keep us alive.
Thanks to the negativity bias, we notice threats in our environment first and foremost. Then comes pleasure!
Remember, it’s our evolutionary responsibility to perpetuate our species. Even if we are post menopausal nurturing is still firmly lodged in our DNA.
Therefore, positive emotions are not only less sticky but tend to dissipate more quickly.
A gratitude practice allows us to bask in the positive feelings for longer. It provides a discreet, dedicated time to appreciate the good in our lives that might slip away before we can even grasp its importance.
Gratitude can relieve the stress of negative emotions.
It’s impossible to feel grateful and negative at the same time.
The more space gratitude is allowed to take up, the more it will expand itself and make room for other positive emotions – connection, happiness, appreciation, joy.
Research shows that gratitude, besides increasing positive emotions, can can help relieve depression.
Gratitude is more powerful when focused on the things you do rather than the things you possess.
Research finds that we tend to feel more grateful for experiences than for things we have.
One theory for this is that experiences are less likely to trigger social comparisons.
Focusing on ‘things’ can seduce us into comparing what we have to what other people have. Gratitude for experiences, on the other hand, is more likely to shift our focus from the outward to the inward. This expands our feelings of appreciation, happiness and contentment.
Gratitude changes the brain.
When we feel gratitude, it activates the part of the brain which includes the ventral and dorsal medial pre-frontal cortex.
These areas are involved in feelings of reward, morality, interpersonal bonding, positive social interactions, and the ability to understand what other people are thinking or feeling.
Gratitude also has the capacity to increase the release of important neurochemicals.
When thinking shifts from negative to positive, feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin surge. These all contribute to the feelings of closeness, connection and happiness that come along for the ride with gratitude.
To establish a gratitude habit, consistent practice is key.
Gratitude builds on itself.
We know that experiences change the brain. The more we practice gratitude, the more the brain is able to recognize the positive things in the world.
Since we already know that the brain is biologically primed to notice the negatives, deliberately teaching it to tune into the positive is a must if we want to hold on to the thoughts and feelings stimulated by gratitude often enough and long enough for them to change the brain.
Rick Hanson, who has done plenty of work in this area, found that focusing on an experience for 20 seconds is long enough to create positive structural changes in the brain.
Gratitude gives space for the positive experience to expand, or for us to ‘re-experience’ it, rather than having us quickly move on from it.
There are many ways to practice gratitude. Just do it with consistency and novelty.
Our brains love novelty so use it to your advantage to overcome hedonic adaptation.
We quickly adapt to anything that remains constant.
This is why the joy we feel for things that have us swooning in the beginning dissipates over time.
Our brains adapt and when they do, they go looking for the next special thing.
Being grateful for the same things every day, even if they are important and worthy of enormous gratitude, won’t have the same effect on the brain as finding something positive and new each time.
We can counteract this phenomenon when we practice gratitude for a variety of different things, giving our brains new and positive thoughts to focus on.
And while it sounds easy enough to practice gratitude consistently, if negative thoughts and feelings tend to rise up too quickly, it might be more difficult than you expect.
If you need to work around this, start small.
Here are three ways to build your gratitude practice.
3 things a day, for 21 days.
For 21 days, write down three things that had happened in the previous 24 hours that you’re grateful for. They can be things in the larger world or things that have happened in your personal world. They can be as big or as small as you want – the breeze on your skin when you walked outside, a cozy comforter, the smell of a fresh brewed cup of coffee. According to Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor, do this for 21 days to train your brain to look at the world in a different way. In that way, your brain will learn to scan the world for positives instead of threats. It’s important that the things you find to be grateful for are new and specific. So rather than, ‘I’m grateful for my friends’, try ‘I’m grateful for (someone specific) because (something specific you think or feel about them, or that they said or did).’
Take a positive experience and memorialize it.
Whether you received, a test or caught up with someone you like, find a positive experience and spend two minutes writing down every detail about it. Write them in list form and keep of this practice for 21 days. According to Achor, as you remember positive experiences, your brain them as meaningful and the imprint in your brain deepens. The brain can’t tell the difference between an actual experience and a visualization. So recall a positive experience after it’s happened. This doubles the good feelings in your brain. The idea is that after 21 days it will become a habit and it will change the way your brain looks at and receives the world.
Write letters (it’s okay – you don’t have to send them).
Spend 20 minutes a week writing a letter to someone you’re thankful for. Whether or not you send it is up to you. The effect of this stays for months after the initial exercise. Researchers described the changes in the brain as ‘profound’ and ‘long-lasting’. One of the changes was a greater sensitivity to gratitude. What this means is that noticing the good now makes it easier to notice the good later.
Rewiring your brain to increase your awareness of what’s good in your world makes everything easier.
We’re not going to suddenly become ignorant of danger if we appreciate the positives. Instead, we will become more open to the good more of the time.
Our brains will always seek the things that keep us safe. But the more good we notice, the happier we’ll be on a daily basis. And when we’re happier, everything feels easier.
As part of my It’s Never Too Late Weight Loss Coaching program, I can help you establish a gratitude practice that amplifies feelings of peace and freedom around food, your body and your weight.
Isn’t it time to take me up on my offer for a FREE Strategy Call so we can get started ASAP?
Make 2022 your year to strengthen your gratitude practice.
It’s Never Too Late to make your weight loss journey easier. A year from now, you will thank yourself you started today.
I’m looking forward to meeting you soon.
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