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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Taylor

A Daily Dose of Gratitude

Updated: May 22, 2020


 

This is a time that anyone can feel stress and anxiety even if they still have a job, a home, health insurance, you name it. So what tool helps my clients ease their sometimes ever present, and even occasionally crippling, concerns? Why a healthy dose of gratitude, of course!


Gratitude journaling helps develop the practice of bringing to mind what it is we are thankful for in life. What’s amazing about this practice is how little work you can put in and still reap rewards. When facing extremely difficult situations it might be more challenging to access your gratitude. My recommendation is to try out starting with something really small or really big, those things that can easily be taken for granted. For example, “I am thankful that I am breathing,” or “I am thankful the sun came up today," and go from there. All and all, it’s pretty impressive how much science has already revealed about gratitude and why this simple little tool can have such tremendous power.


So what is gratitude? The National Institute of Health refers to a state of appreciation or thankfulness. Although there are many interpretations of gratitude, one is that gratitude isn’t just about being thankful, it’s the important combination of being thankful and the contemplation of how it is that we have benefited (notice the emphasis on the contemplation). It’s the contemplation (or being in the state of appreciation) that gets our brain juices flowing.


Ok, let me explain what I mean by that. It’s understood that the brain's limbic system is heavily responsible for our emotional experiences. Feelings of gratitude can affect the hippocampus and amygdala, which are involved in regulating emotions, memory, and bodily functioning. Expressing (and receiving) gratitude triggers our brain to release dopamine and serotonin, the two key neurotransmitters that directly influence our emotions. Gratitude can instantly enhance our mood, allowing us “feel happy from the inside.” Scientists are now even beginning to find that those who more readily experience gratitude might even have larger amounts of grey matter in certain areas of the brain, giving us reason to believe that cultivating gratitude can have lasting constructive effects on our central nervous system.


What does the research say about utilizing gratitude as a tool? Several studies have had participants practice various forms of gratitude exercises as therapeutic devices. An experiment that tested positive psychology interventions were able to show that gratitude journaling helps improve sleep, stress levels, and emotional awareness. Another study of people that wrote letters of gratitude showed that not only did writing the letters impact their well-being and feelings of happiness, it can also be used as a method of empowering individuals to “enact positive change” in their lives. A more recent study was performed on people seeking therapy services to relieve mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety. Participants in the group who wrote letters of gratitude had significantly better feelings about their mental health than the group that wrote expressively about their stress and concerns, even 3 month after they stopped writing the letters!


This is only the tip of the iceberg, gratitude can have positive effects on our physical health and sleep health, relationship health, depression and anxiety, physical pain, and mindset and optimism, among others. I struggled to cull what I did for this article, but you get the idea. This stuff is real and it works. Point made.


So what’s the takeaway, you ask? The practice of acknowledging the good things in life turns out to be a great thing for your life! Taking the time to practice gratitude is something that can have large and lasting impacts, even if you can only spare a few moments. The best part is that little bit of bliss that comes with the acknowledgement of your gratitude, is always there inside you, at the ready. All you have to do is spend a moment enjoying it.


Personally I recommend committing 5+ minutes a day (I usually suggest the morning before you get too busy). Think of 3 things you are grateful for today. Follow that up with the explanation of why you are grateful, this is important because it allows you to spend a moment with the benefit you have gained from that particular thing in your life (this is that ever-important contemplation part). If you have more time, you can expand, or even choose to write a letter (and you don’t even have to send it to see the internal benefit). If you only have a moment, just think of one thing and why, every time you do something, like brushing your teeth. Choose or create a practice that fits easily in your life. Life hack: if you have trouble sleeping, try your gratitude practice at night before you go to bed. The goal is to make time for it each day, because it is the regular practice that does the most good (and who doesn’t want a little more grey matter in their brains, am I right?). Bonus tip: reread your entries anytime you need a mood boost!


Download the complementary Fit and Flow Living with Gratitude journal page, so you can easily participate in cultivating a healthy practice yourself. If you don’t have a printer, just answer the questions on your own sheet of paper. Remember, the more often you write, the greater the impacts will be in your life. Use the Cultivating Gratitude worksheet to create and grow your own list if you’re wondering where to start. Don’t be surprised if you discover very different answers each and every time you fill it out.


I decided to strengthen my own personal practice of gratitude journaling by sharing something I am grateful for with the world every day during the month of May. Find and follow my posts, or share your posts with me @fitandflowforlife. Starting my day with a healthy dose of gratitude was exactly what I needed during SIP.


So...what is it that you are grateful for?


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