If I took a poll of people I know, asking them what they’d like most, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of folks would respond that they’d like a happy life, a full bank account, incredible health, and rich relationships. While it can be easy to wish for things to be better and have more than we already do, we often forget to appreciate what we already have.
Enter the world of gratitude.
The effects of gratitude are immense. We feel happier and have a more positive outlook on life. The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA found that gratitude actually changes the neural structures in the brain, leading to happy boosts and feelings of contentment. These feelings trigger the “good” hormones within us and help to regulate our immune system.
By expressing gratitude, and being on the receiving end as well, our brains release dopamine and serotonin. These are important neurotransmitters that are responsible for our emotions and enhance our moods. When we practice different forms of gratitude daily, we help strengthen these neural pathways, causing a positive, happiness snowball effect.
In addition to feeling overall happier, a gratitude practice has many other incredible benefits. It reduces depression, lowers our stress levels, improves our quality of sleep, reduces anxiety, and causes a decrease in pain. A gratitude practice also reduces cardiac diseases, lowers inflammation, and helps to significantly diminish neurodegeneration. All from living in a state of gratitude.
So what makes up a gratitude practice? There are lots of ways to move through life feeling grateful. Try out a few of these and see which resonate with you.
Anytime you notice you’re talking trash about yourself, stop that line of thinking and instantly switch it to something that you appreciate about yourself. Because our minds can’t focus on negative and positive thoughts at the same time, switch your thoughts to something that you really appreciate about yourself. This action alone helps to reprogram your brain and reduce anxiety at the same time.
Write In A Gratitude Journal
Each morning for almost two years, I’ve been writing down a full page of things I’m grateful for. While I consider myself a pretty upbeat and positive person, there have definitely been plenty of times that my rose-colored glasses have changed to crap-colored brown. As a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman, I acknowledge my place of privilege in this world and absolutely understand that I have it better than millions on this planet. Even so, some days my gratitude journaling is easy, where I could fill up volumes of books with things I’m grateful for; and sometimes there are days where I have a pity party in my head and struggle with writing a full page. By taking just a couple of minutes each day to think about things you’re grateful for (even if it’s just your morning coffee and your dog), you’re cultivating massive cellular benefits.
Create A Gratitude Jar
If journaling doesn’t vibe with you, grab a big jar and, on a small piece of paper, jot down each time something happens that you’re grateful for. Here’s an idea: because we’re headed into a new year, what if you used this jar (or box or whatever you’d like) and have the intention to fill it by the end of next year? Then, come New Year’s Eve, you can take a few moments to read and reflect on all of the things that filled you with gratitude during the year.
Write Gratitude Notes To People
Share the warm fuzzies of gratitude with others! Whether you write little gratitude love notes to people or you just tell them, spread this feeling with anyone who you’re grateful for. My partner and I tell each other often how grateful we are for each other. And I can tell you, there’s nothing quite like looking into someone’s eyes and seeing their gratitude beaming towards you. If you don’t have someone in your life who could be on the receiving end of this appreciation, tell your cat, your plants, and your food how grateful you are for them. As we’re all made of energy, you’ll still get the loving vibes sent back to you.
As you implement a gratitude practice into your daily life, notice any shifts you might experience, especially in that precise moment. Do you feel lighter? Happier? More content? Peaceful? Loving? Chances are you’ll feel at least one of these, if not all – simply by appreciating and acknowledging that appreciation in your moments.