Around the Holidays, the concept of gratitude is heavily emphasized. From social media to the dinner table, acknowledging what you’re thankful for is a seasonal norm. But why is gratitude only seen as a holiday habit? Practicing gratitude shouldn’t stop after January 1st. Emerging research shows that Incorporating daily gratitude practices into your life can improve not only your mental health, but your physical health as well.
Expressing gratitude consistently can literally retrain your brain. Several studies have shown that regular gratitude practices (specifically through journaling), will actually shift your brain’s behavior to have a more positive outlook. A 2003 study with over 200 participants, researchers split participants into three groups: one group would list out the events they were grateful for that week, one group would list the events that occured with no emphasis on whether they were good or bad, and the final group listed events that they found irritating or upsetting. Participants journaled for 10 weeks. At the end of the 10 weeks, researchers noticed astounding results.
The group who practiced gratitude journaling had measurably more positive outlooks, and on average exercised more and reported fewer health problems. The truly incredible thing was that these participants were tested again 3 months after the study had ended, and continued to display increased feelings of gratitude and more positive outlooks. Their brains were literally “re-wired” for gratitude - the effects of their earlier gratitude journaling could still be seen in their thoughts and behaviors months after the study had ended.
The benefits of gratitude don’t stop there - emerging research shows that gratitude can have physical benefits, too. Several recent studies indicate that a connection between practicing gratitude and improved physical health. in Patients who practiced gratitude demonstrated decreased systemic inflammation (even in patients at increased risk of systemic inflammation), lower blood pressure, improved ease of falling asleep, better sleep quality, and fewer overall health problems (headaches, stomach pains, etc.). While these results are amazing, gratitude isn’t a magic pill to cure all ailments - but it is a practice that, if done consistently, can change how you feel and relate to yourself and the world around you.
Ask yourself this: if people experienced that kind of change after only 10 weeks of practicing gratitude, what kind of shifts will you experience by practicing gratitude daily?
Getting started with mindful gratitude practice can seem daunting, so I’ve listed 3 easy ways to practice gratitude below.
Use a gratitude app or journal! If you’re new to journaling (or just find it easier to journal on the go), a gratitude app is a great way to start. While I still love journaling in an actual journal, apps are really helpful in the beginning because you can set up a notification to remind you to journal at the same time everyday.
For iOS, I really love “Morning! 5 minute journal” app, you can find this on the App Store. Android users have told me that they love “Gratitude: Personal Growth & Affirmations Journal,” which you can find through the Google Play store.
Try to reframe events in your life as opportunities rather than negative experiences. It seems simple (and might feel a little silly at first), but framing experiences like working out as “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to exercise at 5 a.m.” as opposed to “I can’t believe I have to get up to do this” has a big impact on your perception over the long term.
Communicate your gratitude & appreciation
Let the people around you know that you appreciate them. If your partner wakes up early to spend time with you before work, telling them that you appreciate it not only makes you feel more grateful, but helps your partner feel recognized and loved. If someone goes out of their way to show up in your life, let them know that you see that and that it means a lot to you.
For those who aren’t as interested in the science behind gratitude, I’ll leave you with this: If your thoughts and emotions fill up your “cup,” what is your cup full of? Life will always throw you curveballs and challenges that will “shake” the cup. When your cup shakes, what spills out? If you often find yourself complaining about the people around you, about how there are so many things going wrong in your life, then that negativity, criticism, and anger is what will spill out of your cup. If, instead, you choose to focus on the many things you’re grateful for, on what is going well in your life, then that gratitude, joy, and compassion will spill out of your cup. What’s in your cup?