Gratitude – why it’s more than a feeling, and why it’s more important than ever
While across the globe we collectively take a breath and adjust to the uncertainty of what is now, or at least temporarily our new reality, the practice of gratitude is more important than ever.
Every day as common courtesy and good manners we all express gratitude, we say thank you to family members, work colleagues and perfect strangers for all matter of things, but have you ever stopped to focus on what you are truly thankful and grateful for?
What are you grateful for, and how does it make you feel? Really feel.
There is no doubt our current pandemic has caused much grief, loss and fear for so many people across the world. There has however been many things to be grateful for as a result of our current climate.
People are finding new and creative ways to connect.
Our health care workers, our saving angels, are finally receiving the recognition they deserve.
Parents are home with their children spending quality time.
Families who live together are reconnecting, sharing home cooked meals and establishing newfound routines.
The little things now suddenly seem important, and what used to be is now insignificant.
New connection and communications are being formed.
Businesses are discovering through necessity alternative ways to take action and the benefits of working online. The traffic is gone, as are long queues and pollution. The air is cleaner, rivers are becoming pollution free and the world is quieter. We now have time to collectively take a breath. Suddenly we have time. Time to stop and reflect on what is truly important in our hearts. Time to stop and smell the roses. It’s like the reset button for humanity.
What is one thing you learned from this experience? What is one thing you are grateful for about this experience, even though it was challenging?
To gain a greater understanding of what gratitude actually is defined as I referred to the trusted Oxford dictionary where it is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness.”
It is a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to feeling like you have received a gift? A gift can be many things, including a tangible item, a relationship, an opportunity, or a moment of beauty.
Gratitude is in effect communicating at heart level and connecting with your values, what has meaning and is most important to you in your world. Think of this practice as a ten minute daily investment in yourself as it works to moving you towards your goals, sets you up to deal with challenges and gives you the tools for stronger coping skills and resilience during life’s hardships, like now!
Research from major universities has proven the far-reaching benefits of gratitude, in that people who practice gratitude daily experience fewer aches, pains and are generally in better health and experience greater happiness and positivity. Who or what you are grateful for is irrelevant, the act of being thankful is the key.
Gratitude is experienced when people receive something beneficial. It is the appreciation one feels when somebody does something kind or helpful.
When researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida had participants of a study group write down a list of positive events at the close of a day and why this made them happy, the results were very clear. As a result of consistently practicing this simple act, participants lowered their self-reported stress levels and felt a greater sense of calm at night, and thereby a well-rested sleep.
Gratitude improves your health and energy levels, and this means that people experience fewer aches and pains and are healthier. They exercise more often and are more likely to keep regular doctors’ appointments, which contributes to longevity. It increases the quality of your sleep, decreases the time it takes to fall asleep, and lengthens the duration of your sleep and finally writing in a gratitude journal can reduce blood pressure by 10%.
Gratitude improves your self esteem and reduces social comparisons. When people are able to appreciate themselves as well as other people’s accomplishments rather than becoming resentful towards others who have more than they do.
Gratitude improves your mental health as it reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, including envy, frustration, resentment, and regret. The feeling of appreciation helps us to have healthier minds, and with that means healthier bodies. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. And that can only be good.
Gratitude improves mental strength as it means we slowly changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on, and it not only reduces stress but also plays a major role in overcoming trauma.
Gratitude improves and strengthens relationships with partners, family members, friends, and work colleagues.By expressing thanks and gratitude for things people do for you, letting them know you appreciate them is beneficial to both people.
People feel noticed, heard and appreciated when acknowledged and appreciated, and therefore are more receptive to constructive feedback and perform better at work.
Gratitude doesn’t need to be for momentous occasions, you may well express gratitude for your promotion, passing an exam but you can also be just as grateful for the job you didn’t get and the lessons it taught you or other opportunities you had instead. Equally so, being grateful for the meal in front of you each day is just as important
So now that we understand why gratitude is beneficial to us let’s look at the best way to consistently practice it and gain maximum results for the long haul. The first step is to establish practicing gratitude journaling, and perhaps meditation, is to keep your gratitude journal in a convenient place like your bedside table.
Each morning write down at least five things that you are grateful for, you can use your own gratitude journal or perhaps you might like to use the gratitude journal sheet attached. To ensure you build the muscle of this habit allocate the same time each day, like after you get out of bed or brush your teeth, you are then training your brain to have this inbuilt routine and establish it as a habit.
Recognize and plan for the obstacles that may get in the way. For instance, if you tend to be really tired at night, accept that it might not be the best time to focus for a few extra minutes and schedule your gratitude time in the morning instead. Yep, it’s that simple.
Gratitude journaling: Using your journal or the gratitude journal sheet provided write down five things you are grateful for today. These can be small or big things e.g. the delicious vegetable pie you had for you had for lunch today, or the movie you watched… or relatively big e.g. thank you to my heart for beating constantly and keeping me alive, for the healthy boy your friend gave birth to today, for the home you live in. No matter how great or terrible your day, think of at least one thing you can be grateful for.
Taking in the good: Take the top three things you are grateful for today. Taking each thing one at a time, really savour and enjoy the experience consciously. Really reflect on, take it in and fill yourself up on each experience – for at least 30 seconds if you can. Sense and intend to let it deeply “sink in” to your body. Breathing in to feel it, smell it, hear it, taste it, touch it – as if it is here now soaking though your whole body like the sun’s warmth on your face or water into a sponge. Keep relaxing your body and absorbing the emotions, sensations, and thoughts of the experience. Then repeat the process with the next thing and the next until you have completed all three.
Gratitude as a resilience tool: Think about a challenging time you had recently or are experiencing now. What is one thing you learned from this experience? What is one thing you are grateful for about this experience, even though it was challenging? What is one thing you learned from this experience? What is one thing you are grateful for about this experience, even though it was challenging?
Gratitude is a form of connection: Write a handwritten letter and post it, yes on real paper, in an envelope and a with a stamp – like the old fashion way. Then go post it! Reflect on something someone you are thinking of, someone who you want to thank for the impact they have made on your life, that you have never had the time to write to, let alone reflect on what they have done for you. Write a handwritten note to your partner, child, friend, or work colleague simply to say thanks.
Protect your nervous system: In a world of constant tech and being inundated with social media, television and computer screens and all matter of other sorts of influences on our tech devices, too much of this and our nervous systems become frazzled resulting in us catching the train to the negative thoughts station which only causes us to become stressed and unable to make good decisions. Instead, allocate time out in your day as time tech a free stop, and instead with your hand on your heart breathe, deeply breathe and feel your heart beat, and with every breathe in feel the magic of being alive, and with every breath out let go of the negative thoughts and feel your shoulders drop. Your nervous system will thank you in so many ways.
Make it fun: At the dinner table connect with your family and friends in a different way, start a ritual and with compassion share one thing you are grateful for about one person at the table, each picking a different person. Then when putting your kids to bed take a moment to connect and ask them to name two things, that they are grateful for in their day, this not only ensures they create this beautiful healthy habit, it also connects you with you kids and a whole new way. Each morning when you are brushing your teeth, look in the mirror, take a breath with love and self-compassion thank yourself for something you like about you!
Gratitude Jar: Ever heard of a swear jar, well this is kind of the same concept but with much better outcomes! Here is something I started doing a few years back, every time I experience something that makes me happy in my day or I accomplish something, I write it on a piece of paper and pop it in the jar. It could be as simple as I found the courage to act on task or connected with what my heart in what it truly desired and then spoke up to say what I wanted. On New Year’s Eve as I reflect on the year that was, I empty the jar and read all the things I have accomplished and am grateful for. It’s fun and so satisfying to read all the simple little, and some big things that I have accomplished throughout the year. I have an instant appreciation for myself and what I have achieved.
Gratitude walk: Go for walk in your garden, local area or walk a different way to work. Pay close attention to everything you see and experience. Notice the sounds of the birds, the smells of nature, the feeling of the air on your skin and the path or grass beneath the soles of your feet. Enjoy it, the sensory feeling it is gifting to you. And leave your phone at home!
What are you waiting for, and what are you grateful for right now in this moment?