Gratitude is just one word … and yet so powerful. Since we were little kids, we were taught to say “thank you” and to show appreciation when someone was nice to us or gave us a gift, or a compliment. That´s what being polite means, but today, we´re beyond that.
When we search about “being grateful”, we´ll probably end up reading something like “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. And that´s not wrong … it´s just incomplete.
Being grateful is deeper than a simple and automatic thank you. It is when we consciously take time to acknowledge a kind gesture or something that may have happened out of pure luck, and no one was responsible for it. Or about being aware of all the little good things we have happening in our lives, that we sometimes just take for granted. For example, do you usually think how lucky you are for being strong enough to start another day? To see the sunrise? Do you feel grateful to hear? See? Breathe? Spend time with your loved ones or children?
There are many ways to be grateful and the purpose of this blog is to show how important daily gratitude practice can be, how it can improve your health, and give you amazing tips for you to get started.
The science behind daily gratitude practice.
As 21st-century human beings, we don´t usually have time for anything. We have fast-paced lives and we´re not used to “stop and smell the roses”. This is where gratitude practice kicks in. No, you don´t have to start smelling out plants and flowers, the point is to start appreciating things that happen to you and how they make you feel. It can either be a small detail, like “it’s sunny outside and I love to go out and feel the warmth on my face”, or something more meaningful to you, such as “my boss told me I did an amazing job today”.
Gratitude involves recognition of the things that are good and positive in your life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to look at the world with pink glasses. You should be able to embrace pain too, and acknowledge that, but the main goal is to understand how that makes you feel and how you can turn it into a drive to keep moving forward.
Positive Psychology explains, “When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’”. Dopamine is often referred to as the "motivation molecule" as it contributes to feelings of pleasure, reinforcement, motivation, happiness, and focus. Serotonin is often referred to as the "happiness chemical" since it has a key role in feelings of well-being and happiness, and consequently reducing depression. So, by having these two combined we have the perfect cocktail to enhance our mood, therefore, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety.
But how can gratitude practice improve your health?
There is a reason a lot of people talk about and search for gratitude … it´s because it works. No, it´s not a cure for medical conditions but it helps you face the challenges differently and ends up with you having a more positive attitude towards life’s problems and obstacles.
With anxiety and stress usually comes sleep deprivation, and the practice of daily gratitude can also help you improve your sleep quality.
For people who suffer from chronic pain, although it may sound a little weird at first, being grateful can help you reduce that pain. No, it won’t make it go away, but it will improve your overall attitude - “Since your mind and body are always communicating, the way you perceive pain can change how you feel”.
There are many more benefits for your health in practicing daily gratitude, but there´s one we think is important to mention above all others: improving your relationships. Humans are inevitably social animals, and for that reason, we rely on social interactions to be happy and feel fulfilled. Being grateful can help you achieve those goals.
But now that you know what gratitude practice is, and how it works to improve your health, here comes the million-dollar question: How do I get started?
We understand it´s not always easy to commit when something is new or you are already dealing with so much in your life, and that’s why we have 5 Top Tips to help you get started on your Gratitude Journey:
1. Start by thinking about it once a day, until it becomes a habit.
We all hear it takes around 21 days to form a habit and it´s perseverance and consistency that allows us to do so. This is the best way to think about gratitude. With small steps we´re able to make gratitude practice part of our daily routine. Just start for example when you wake up, be conscious of how grateful it is to wake to another day, with 24h of new opportunities; or if you have kids, be grateful to have them around you and that you´re able to be here and love them. Find one good reason to be happy and start your day with that on your mind.
2. Keep a gratitude journal.
For many people, this takes us back to our childhood when we shared all of our secrets in a diary. This is pretty much the same thing, just grab a pen, make yourself comfortable and start writing. You don´t have to write an elaborate text, just choose maybe three moments of your day that made you feel grateful, and write them down. You can do it only a couple of times a week or every day, whatever makes you more comfortable. Our advice is to keep the journal next to your bed, that way you can write before going to sleep, and keep only good things in your mind when you´re about to close your eyes.
3. Nurture your friendships.
We all need friends, social contacts and interactions. Yes, some people might be a bit more reserved and like to spend some alone time, but we all need people in their life. People need people. And what´s the best way to keep our friends close? By showing them how much we care and appreciate their presence in our lives. We shouldn´t have to wait for birthdays or Christmas to let the most important people know how much we love them, and how grateful we are to have them around.
4. Smile more often.
According to an NBC news article “Smiling can trick your brain into happiness — and boost your health”. Studies have shown that smiling, even when it´s forced, can reduce stress and lower heart rate, which means the expression “fake it till you make” is not so nonsense at all. By smiling we´re triggering the release of neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) into our brain, and just like we previously explained, this is the perfect combination to make us feel good and happy. So, each time something good happens just smile, be grateful and think “This day was already worth it”.
5. Start a gratitude jar.
You can think of this like it’s a cookie jar, but instead of eating you´ll be reading notes of things that at some point in your life you were grateful for. This is perfect if you think the gratitude journal it´s not right for you. Here, all you have to do is every time you think of something you feel grateful for, you just write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. It could be anything, and it can either have happened on that day or even a few years ago, as long as it has made you happy. The best part is, besides putting your gratitude into practice, these papers will help you on those days that you need to cheer up, and feel good about yourself. Taking a few quiet moments to read them through is your consolation cookie.
As a final observation, being grateful is one of the simple and at the same time hardest things to do. It can be nerve racking to keep finding reasons to be happy and thankful for the life we have when sometimes it feels like everything is just crumbling apart. But that´s exactly the beauty and the challenge of it. It can be “easy” because there are a lot of tiny things, we can be grateful for, like the simple fact of waking up, breathing, having people who care about us, etc. And on the other hand, it can be hard to do because sometimes we have to overcome a lot of obstacles. Take the story of Anthony Ray Hinton as an example, he spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, and yet he still believes “there is something to be grateful for every day …" Gratitude does not make us complacent. It allows us to experience more hope and more abundance in life”.
Let me just ask you one last question … Now that you know that gratitude can, and will, improve your health, (and therefore make you feel better), what´s your excuse for not giving it a try? Our health is the most precious thing we have, the one we should all be more grateful for.
Like Robert Brault once said, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things”.
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