Giving Gratitude and Reaping Its Rewards
An “attitude of gratitude” can help us live a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life
The holiday season often invokes emotions of warmth, cheer, and giving. And the ringing in of a new year also brings along sentiments of reflection. It is amongst these thoughts that I find myself surging with feelings of gratitude.
It definitely was not an easy year. Like many, there were quite a few hardships and heartbreaks. However, when really thinking about it, there are many things – countless things – to be grateful for. And so I would like to confirm the idea that we don’t have to wait until a certain time of year to express gratitude. In fact, practicing gratitude every day may be the key to unlocking a more satisfying life.
It is free and easy to do, so let’s explore how to cultivate it.
A simple definition of gratitude is: the state of being thankful. If we want to get a bit more detailed, we can understand gratitude as a feeling of appreciation by the recipient of gifts (such as kindness, favors, or other generosity) felt/shown toward the giver of such gifts. And taking it even one step further, Harvard Health Publishing brilliantly summarized the meaning of gratitude as:
“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
Notice that I said gratitude is a feeling. This means it is also a choice. Certainly, we may be overcome with an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness at any moment, as goes with any emotion. However, it is important to recognize that as we become emotionally mature, we get to choose to be grateful.
This fast-paced, modern world brings us many challenges that test our emotions. The stress of work and school. The demands of parenting. Even “keeping up with the Benjamins” on social media. All of these tend to rouse feelings of anxiety, weariness, defeat, and even jealousy. Certainly severe depression deserves professional help. But for many, we may just need to take a moment to consciously change our focus. It can be helpful to think less about what gets us down, let go of the stress, and to reflect on all the things we have and for which we can be grateful. This practice definitely helps me.
The Benefits of Gratitude
The benefits of gratitude are incredible in number and impact. Not only does it improve one psychologically and socially, but also physically and financially. Here is a quick summary of positive effects that come from practicing and expressing thankfulness.
It is not just about trying to be happier. We should strive to live with an attitude of gratitude, because thankfulness and appreciation provide more than just smiles. But this is by far the most obvious “plus” to showing gratitude. And this improvement in mood has a cascading effect. When you are happier, you reap additional rewards.
A leading gratitude researcher from the University of California – Davis, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., has conducted myriad tests on thankfulness and well-being. His results demonstrate that gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Certainly, his research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
A GOOD SOCIAL SKILL
Nobody wants to hang out with a grouch. So if you shift from sad to happy, you are very likely to attract more positive attention from others. Further, and more importantly, nobody wants to be taken for granted. Therefore, as you express thanks to others for all they bring to your life, you become a better friend. In the most basic terms, by improving your attitude and increasing your kindness, you are likely to also strengthen your social network.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”~A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
BOOST YOUR ENERGY
When we express gratitude, our brain releases our own “feel good drug”, dopamine. This chemical naturally increases our energy level, as well as activating our brain’s learning centers, which in turn makes us feel more motivated.
BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY
In addition to helping us feel happier, dopamine also has positive effects on blood vessel function, kidney function, lactation, control of nausea and vomiting, pain processing, and movement. Being thankful also releases serotonin in our bodies. Not only does this also make us feel happy and content, but it aids with eating and digestion. Additionally, it helps the brain cells communicate with the rest of the nervous system, and plays a part in bone health. Another thing to consider is that stress weakens the immune system. Therefore, by practicing gratitude and increasing your inner peace, you allow your body to operate more naturally and healthily.
HELP YOU SLEEP BETTER
This may sound contradictory to what I just stated, but it is very closely related to the two hormones discussed above. Although dopamine can boost energy, it and serotonin also have huge effects on sleep regulation. Evidence from a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being in 2011 concluded that writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes before going to bed helped participants sleep longer and more peacefully. And I think we can all attest that it is easier to fall asleep when happy as compared to when we are upset.
BE MORE SUCCESSFUL
This may sound odd, but being grateful for what you have can actually help you make and save more money. Bear with me on this one. We all tend to reap what we sow. Therefore if we focus on the negative feelings of want and lack, we will tend to find more shortcomings in life. On the other hand, if we live with gratitude in our hearts, we shift into a state of abundance. When we see and appreciate all that we have, we will in turn see these multiply in daily living.
If you are not a believer in the law of attraction, then here is a more practical way to observe the monetary benefit of gratitude… Look at all the examples above. If you are happier, and more socially-accepted, you will have more job opportunities and are more likely to get hired. When you have more energy, you will be more focused and productive, and will likely earn more money. And if you are healthy, you will save money by not paying for extra health care such as medicine, therapy or surgery.
Ways to Practice Gratitude
Now that we’ve covered why gratitude is good for us, let’s take a look at how we can practice being grateful. The simplistic approach is:
Focus on what you have… not on what you don’t have.
But here are a few practical ways to increase appreciation each day.
NOTICE THE GOOD THINGS
Take time to notice and/or think about the things in everyday life for which you can be grateful. They can be tangible or intangible, and they may even be little things that you typically take for granted. Waking up today… pretty neat! Breathing, and air to breath… fairly important! A heartbeat… that’s useful! Eyes, ears, internet so you could receive this message… I’m glad for you, and I hope you are, too!
Now that you’ve noticed some things to be grateful for, take a moment to write them down. A gratitude journal is a great way to remember the positive things you have in life. The more you record, the more you’ll notice to write for next time. Or a gratitude jar – write the things for which you are grateful on small slips of paper and store them in a jar. They can be serious or silly. And when you need a boost, grab a handful to read and remember what makes you happy.
Another way to boost your awareness of appreciation, is rituals. Taking time to simply say thanks to the world for what it provides helps keep us grounded. For example, it needn’t be religious, but saying a prayer before a meal gives us opportunity to be grateful for the meal itself. Or make it a point to meditate. It only take s few minutes to calm the mind and focus on the positives in life each day.
LET IT SINK IN
Going back to the idea that sometimes you just feel grateful without thinking about it… When you notice this feeling, savor it. True appreciation is a great feeling. So you can say to yourself, “Wow! How cool is this?!” or “What a blessing!” and “How lucky I am!” When you enjoy the good moments and feelings when they occur, they can help buoy you even when thinks aren’t as grand. You’ll remember that good things do happen, are all around you, and will come again.
My favorite time for this is in bed. No, not in a dirty way! But as I’m beginning to sleep or just as I’m first opening my eyes in the morning.. During that calm period, I think about one or two things that make my heart sing, and simply revel in it. To me, there is no better feeling than falling asleep or waking up with a smile.
EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE
We were all taught as children to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” as a courtesy. But when you own those words and say them genuinely, they carry more meaning. And further, you’re practicing the first to step above: You are acknowledging the gift being given to you, and you are truly appreciating it. This appreciation will bring warmth to your heart, and the showing of appreciation will warm the heart of the giver. This may even inspire you to show gratitude by returning the favor or some other thoughtful act. So be sure to tell those you appreciate how you feel, and spread the kindness.
Wrapping It Up
It is easy to take life and our situations for granted. And sometimes this may drag us down and negatively impact our health and relationships. But by realizing all the gifts and miracles around us and taking time to show gratitude for them, we can improve our own lives, as well as those around us.
Today I am thankful for loving friends and family, for this hot cup of coffee (because its a bit chilly outside), and the opportunity to share this definition of gratitude with you.
I hope these tips help you increase your peace, health and happiness. And from the bottom of my heart: Thank you for reading!
Bonus! This thankfulness song may be intended for children, but I dare you to listen to it and not smile. Have an awesome, blessed day! 🙂
Please share the things for which you are grateful, and the ways that you like to show your appreciation, in the comments section below. Or send them directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
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