Gratitude – It’s Not Just for the Holidays
Eric Spencer, December 11, 2017
“If thankfulness were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.” – Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy
Do you regularly express gratitude? I mean, on purpose, and for little reason. How often do you look someone in the eye and say, “Thank you for doing that”? I don’t do this nearly as often as I should, but have been paying a lot of attention to gratitude lately.
It’s Like an “Apple a Day,” but it Actually Works!
It turns out that being grateful is not only wise for building better relationships, but it’s also good for your health. Gratitude brings about an increased ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and improves sleep. Study after study has shown that gratitude can produce measurable effects on a number of physiological systems in your body. Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego completed a study that showed having a grateful heart led to a healthier heart.
Gratitude is a Happiness Practice
There’s been a groundswell of work in the ‘positive psychology’ space lately. Researchers like Shawn Achor (Harvard) and Dan Gilbert (Harvard) are focused on happiness, and what actually triggers and drives happiness in humans. Achor’s Six Exercises for Happiness are grounded in gratitude, and show that these practices actually change the size of the neural pathways in the human brain! Practicing gratitude makes it easier to notice what we are grateful for, in that we are continuously scanning the world for what is positive.
If a grateful heart is a healthier heart, what can you do? It’s not that hard, really. Here are a few practical tips for bringing gratitude into focus:
Make it Part of Your Day – Just take a couple of minutes each day to formally reflect on what you’re grateful for. Whether that’s a moment of meditation or self-reflection or a shared ritual with friends or family. Take the time to make it an “official” part of your routine. When my children were younger (and around more often for dinnertime), we would begin the meal by stating one thing that we were grateful for that day. It was a simple way to connect with each other about the things that mattered to us all in our lives at that moment. Relationships were strengthened, neural pathways enlarged, and hearts, healthier.
Write it Down – The practice of writing down things for which you are thankful has a marked impact on your physical health. Whether you do that the old fashioned way with a new notebook (Confession: I have a journal fetish, I buy them all the time. I just love cracking open a new one and writing in it. I have way too many unfinished journals.), or you have brought your journaling into the 21st Century – writing matters. Make it part of your life.
As Your Mom Said When You Were a Kid – SLOW DOWN! – We eat every day, and we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how we eat. We run from event to event and we eat on the go – a lot. Slowing down and being grateful for the food that you’re eating, its origin story, and even the presentation of it can have dramatic effect. I remember reading The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, (one of my top five favorite books) in undergrad; in the book, ole Socrates makes a big deal about this…it’s been part of my routine ever since.
Go On A “Beauty Hunt” – Go out and discover five things that you find beautiful during your day. Photograph them, post them, and explain why you find them beautiful. Posting them will bring other people into your circle and provide something beautiful for them as well. Think of it as a digital “pay it forward,” and you may just inspire others to do the same.
Hug It Up – Research shows that human contact increases our oxytocin levels. Higher oxytocin levels help us deal with stress, feel less anxious, and change our body physiology – proving that hugs are SCIENCE and not just “touchy-feely!”
Now, get out there and make yourself healthier (and happier) by making someone else’s day!