What if I told you that you could improve your wellness in just minutes a day? Even better, what if you didn’t have to start exercising or change your diet? What if the thing that could make you more well also made you happier, improve your relationships and can help ward off depression? It can do all of these things and it’s only one word that you already know: gratitude.
Gratitude is often seen as just something that happens when we express appreciation. Thankfulness and appreciation are important components of gratitude, but practicing gratitude, like other wellness practices, is a lifestyle and philosophy shift - one that create ripples into your physical health and mental wellbeing. Researcher Robert Emmons, Ph.D. studies gratitude and describes it as an “affirmation of the goodness in one’s life and the recognition that the sources of this goodness lie, at least partially, outside of the self.”
He goes on to describe gratitude as “a trait, a state, and attitude, a way of coping, and
a virtue all rolled into one.”
This shift in perspective takes specific work, which is why it’s called a practice. If you practice something it is customary, habitual or an expected part of your life. It’s a skill you have to exercise repeatedly and regularly in order to maintain your proficiency or to improve. Gratitude takes work.
But the many benefits of this particular wellness practice may encourage you over the initial hump. The positive emotions cultivated by practicing gratitude can snowball over time. Heart attack patients who practice gratitude are more likely to adhere to doctor’s orders. Grateful people often report better sleep and that they exercise more. Gratitude can lead to engaging in other behaviors that have long term benefits for your health.
Research on gratitude points not only to better physical wellbeing, but has also shown strong and consistent associations with greater happiness. Practicing gratitude can help you be in the moment – it allows you relish a good experience as opposed to letting it slide by. This kind of mindfulness can help you better deal with adversity or stress when it comes. It is common to get stuck in unpleasant or negative thoughts when experiencing depression, anxiety and stress. Expressing gratitude shifts your thoughts away from the negative and minimizes your opportunities to get stuck there.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, now is a great time to start practicing gratitude. Y members can participate in our Growing Gratitude challenge to start to build these skills. Each week there is a journaling prompt around a theme and an opportunity to note 3 things you’re grateful for each day. There is also a bonus activity that will continue to bring attention to your practice. As you journal, reflect on each thing that you’re grateful for as a gift and savor the opportunity to remember it and write it down.
The first week of journaling has been provided here for you to try.
American Heart Association News, Study: Gratitude is a healthy attitude, 2016
Harvard Health Publishing, HEALTHbeat, “Giving thanks can make you happier”
Psychology Today, Basics: Gratitude
Psychology Today, “7 Scientificially Proven Benefits of Gratitiude,” Amy Morin, 2015