Gratitude; it is such a simple concept and can hold so much power. The expression of gratitude dates back centuries and can be found in such ancient practices as yoga, meditation, and qi gong to name a few. Many modern health coaches will have you verbally express affirmations of gratitude daily as a way to improve your outlook on yourself and those around you. Focusing on the good in others is always a nice way to feel better about humanity as a whole and the world around you. Gratitude is an important key to your own happiness. It is an emotion that expresses appreciation for what you have: past, present, and future. It is a recognition of value independent from monetary worth. An affirmation of goodness generated from within one’s self.
There are many ways to express gratitude. You can choose to verbally affirm your gratitude, you can keep a journal of gratitude that you update daily, you can perform acts of gratitude, and you can consciously state your gratitude in your mind. Gratitude can be expressed by performing random acts of kindness; picking up trash on the sidewalk, shoveling your neighbor’s sidewalk for them, even a simple smile while walking past a stranger can make you feel grateful for the ability to do these tasks and (as an added bonus) boost your own self-confidence. Remember to say thank you to your wait staff, postal worker, barista, or anyone else who may just be going about their normal business; these small expressions of gratitude may just boost their day.
Saying affirmations of gratitude out loud helps you to appreciate and acknowledge them which brings further positivity into our lives. If you only focus on the negative and forget to be grateful for all of the positivity in your life, you will only attract negativity. Author AJ Jacobs said it best in an interview with Psychology Today; “Stop looking at the ‘glass half full’ and ‘glass half empty.’ I’ve decided that’s the wrong way to look at it. You need to step back further and be amazed that there’s water in that cup at all.” Jacobs brings up the point that there are many nations that are not lucky enough to have access to clean water and that this fact alone should help us to be grateful for what we have instead of focusing on that which we do not have. “It’s helped me to focus on the hundreds of things that go right every day instead of the three or four that go wrong, which is such a hard skill.” Jacobs adds.
Studies have shown that expressing gratitude in certain areas helps improve your health and focus in those areas. For example, if you repeat daily that you are thankful for your ability to make healthy food choices, you are more likely to make healthy food choices every day. If you express gratitude for your ability to study hard and get good grades, you will likely see your study habits and grades improve. There have been several research studies which show that gratitude can make people happier, more generous, sleep better, eat healthier, and get sick less.
In 2003 a group of college students spent ten days documenting things they were grateful for. Another group of students spent that same time documenting daily events and hassles. At the end of the ten days, the gratitude group reported lower stress levels, fewer headaches, better sleep, and fewer gastrointestinal issues than the other group.
Furthermore, researchers at UC Berkeley and Harvard show that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve physical and psychological health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. In fact, expressing gratitude on a regular basis over time can help combat feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts. Practicing gratitude helps to shift the use of words that express negative emotions and resentment towards more affirmative language that helps focus on the positive aspects of life.
UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center has shown that expressing gratitude actually changes the molecular structure of the brain. They link it to gray matter, a substance in the brain and spinal cord that appears as darker tissue. Gray matter is mainly made up of nerve cell bodies and branching dendrites (the nerve cells that transmit messages to the body) and is closely linked to intelligence levels in humans. Gratitude can keep the gray matter functioning and make you a healthier and happier individual. In other words, gratitude helps to maintain your intelligence levels.
It is always a good idea to take a few moments out of your day to express gratitude. Thank your body for helping you get through this day. Thank your food for nourishing you. Thank your friends for supporting you. Thank your loved ones for believing in you. Thank yourself for never giving up and always striving to put your best foot forward.
November is a month to give thanks and to express our gratitude for the things we have received. As the year comes to a close, it is always good to look back at the previous months and affirm gratitude for everything that has come to you. Maybe you started a new job, purchased a new home, or even welcomed a new family member into your life. Whatever changes have come to you this past year, make sure that you remember to give thanks for them. Even if this year has not given you everything that you had hoped for, express gratitude for the opportunity to achieve those things in the upcoming days, weeks, months, and years. “Developing an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.”-Amy Morin