Reach for Gratitude!
One of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress and increase feelings of well-being is by practicing gratitude.
I’ve shared a lot about mindfulness over the years, but did you know gratitude is a mindfulness practice? And the more you practice gratitude the more effective it is, just like mindfulness, at improving your health and well-being?
Scientists have been studying gratitude for a couple of decades now and have discovered real and measurable mental and physical benefits. Guess what? They parallel the same benefits that mindfulness gives us.
When you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it may seem like a gratitude practice is really difficult. That’s why, just like mindfulness, it’s important to practice regularly. Then, when you are faced with big challenges, you are fit and ready to practice gratitude to feel better!
Think of it like entering a race. If you haven’t trained, and you want to run a 10K, by 5K you may be feeling pretty terrible. But if you put some time and effort into preparing leading up to the race, you will have a smoother and easier time rising to the challenge.
Gratitude works just like that. Science is showing us now that regular gratitude practice actually changes the brain (like meditation and mindfulness) and that it improves our emotional world including feelings of calm, increasing happiness and well-being, and all the physiological changes that go with that. Gratitude improves digestion, breathing, and immune function.
I recommend a daily practice, possibly along with your mindfulness practice, to be sure you are ready for anything. Think of it as putting on your emotional armor!
Three simple ways to strengthen your gratitude muscles to be prepared for any challenge or disappointment:
Journaling: Keeping a gratitude journal is easier than you think, here are a few options to keep your gratitude practice strong:
- Write gratitudes before bed. Keep a paper journal and your favorite pen next to your bed. Right before sleep, write three to five things you are grateful for from your day. You may have trouble with this at first, but remember it can be anything, even breathing. Once you get the gratitude flood gates open ideas will flow!
- First thing in the morning write down three to five things you are grateful for. If you’re more of a morning person, this might be the best way to start your day!
- Throughout your day, keep your journal with you and make an entry any time you experience gratitude. You can even use a note app on your phone!
Conversations: Mindfully bringing gratitude into any conversation will improve the interaction, and possibly your relationship!
- When you are having a challenging conversation, instead of apologizing, “I’m sorry I was late.” Try shifting to “Thank you for your patience.” This shift makes the person who might be upset by your tardiness feel seen. This benefits both of you, you express that you are aware you made a mistake and take responsibility for it, and you give the person who suffered your appreciation. Try it and observe the power of gratitude!
- Whenever you are entering into any conversation, even with a challenging person, take a deep breath and come up with something about the moment you are grateful for. Even better, share it! With all of the tough conversations going on right now in the world, you can lighten the energy of even a serious conversation with gratitude. “Thank you for listening to my point of view.” “I am so grateful that we live in a country where we are able to express our opinions without fear.”
- Bring to mind a challenging situation you have been in lately. Take a deep breath and focus on all of the details. The people you were with, how did the room feel, smell, look, and sound? Somewhere in that thought, find something you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything big, it can be your ability to breathe. It can be the chair you were sitting on. Perhaps the room was a comfortable temperature and you can be grateful for that.
The Present Moment
I talk about present moment awareness often when I’m speaking about meditation and mindfulness. How about a present moment awareness practice through the lens of gratitude?
- Look around the room you are in right now and find your favorite object, breathe deeply in and out and allow yourself a moment to simply sit in gratitude for that object.
- Close your eyes and mentally scan your body. Do you find places of pain or discomfort? Are you suffering from an illness or injury? Focus your awareness somewhere in your body that is pain-free and functioning well. I often think of my fingers or toes, even my nose or ears, don’t make it complicated, something must be functioning well! Take a deep breath and sit in gratitude for the perfection of this area of your body.
- Have you eaten today? Think about the last meal you had. The food is in your digestive system right now nourishing your body. Imagine that food reaches and nourishes all of your cells, providing them with the nutrients and energy they need to function.
I conclude every class I teach with a moment of gratitude. Be grateful for what you can do, for what you do have, and your appreciation for your life and your health will grow.
Practicing gratitude will improve your life! You’ll be grateful you tried! Let me know how it goes.