Giving Gratitude May Change Your Health
From a young age, we’re taught to say “thank you” after someone helps us. For many of us, it is now automatic — we say thank you to cashiers, servers, delivery people, coworkers — the list goes on. However, how many times do you actually feel the gratitude that “thank you” implies? Are you truly appreciating the work that the person has put in, or are you just saying it as a social nicety?
Truly, deeply-felt gratitude seems to be lacking in our society. We’ve exchanged heartful feelings of thankfulness for a curt thank you, added as an afterthought as we move through our busy lives. By doing so, we’re missing out on the powerful effects that gratitude has on our mind and emotions.
There have been a host of studies that examine the role that gratitude plays in our overall well-being. Gratitude has been found to be one of the most important factors in a person’s individual happiness. Being shown gratitude also boosts reported feelings of well-being in schoolchildren, in customer relationships, and in adolescents, to name just a few! Similarly, feeling gratitude (“counting your blessings”) and expressing it were linked to both an immediate and enduring positive mood, increased optimism, and improved life satisfaction.
Interestingly, one group of researchers studied gratitude’s effect on the brain over three months. Participants who completed gratitude-expression activities had significantly increased neural activity in the part of the brain linked to gratitude, even after three months. They also demonstrated a greater likelihood to show gratitude in their daily lives at the end of the study.
Fortunately, our daily lives present us with a host of opportunities to practice gratitude and reap the positive benefits! Here are a few ways that you can bring gratitude into your day:
While eating: If we eat three or more times daily, we have many occasions to be in the mode of gratitude. Try what I call “gratitude bites”: Before every bite of food you take, quietly acknowledge your gratitude with a “thank you”. You can thank the plants and animals who are the sources of your food, the farmers who harvested your meal, the distributor that brought it to your local market, and the person who prepared it (even if it was you!). This is a great way to slow down your eating and infuse gratitude throughout your meal.
Before bed: Set aside five minutes before you go to sleep to express your gratitude. You can do so by writing down or simply saying the things you are truly thankful for in your life. Nothing is too big or too small to be grateful for — you can express gratitude for anything from a supportive partner to a tasty snack. If you get in the habit of sharing your gratitude every night, you’re training your brain to embrace gratitude, which will radiate into all aspects of your life.
Throughout the day: Instead of saying a meaningless thank you, try to replace it with true expression of gratitude in at least one interaction per day. Tell the barista at your busy local coffeehouse that you are grateful for her patience and friendliness when dealing with a non-stop stream of customers. Express to your coworker that you are thankful for the diligence and creativity she showed when finalizing an urgent report. Imagine how much more valuable that thank you would be both to the person who received it and to you!
On the weekend: Set aside an hour on a weekend to write a note to people who have a positive impact on your life, like your partner, parents, close friends, or mentor. It’s probable that you have taken their support and love for granted, and not thanked them enough for all they do. In the note, express your gratitude and appreciation for their role in your life. You can even write a note to yourself — after all, you likely underappreciate yourself too!
Giving and receiving gratitude can make a huge positive impact in the lives of others, and in your own. Boosting your mood, improving your satisfaction, and feeling more optimistic is easily attainable through daily gratitude expression — why not start today?
Originally published at deannaminich.com.