In moments of challenge, pain, or stress it is inevitable that we focus on the negative. But taking the time to reflect on what is going well in our lives can be remarkably powerful. That’s where expressing gratitude comes in. It requires little more than pausing. Let’s explore more.
The Mental and Physical Connection of Gratitude
Gratitude is a powerful thing and we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to discovering the various mental and physical effects it has on us. Here’s a few of those to give you an idea of what you can expect if you start to make feeling gratitude a daily focus.
The Mental Benefits Of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude helps your overall mental health because you instantly have a better outlook on life. Don’t be surprised to walk away from your latest gratitude meditation with a big smile on your face. Of course the benefits don’t stop at increased happiness. Feeling more gratitude has been linked to a better self-image, less anxiety and even a reduction of depression. This comes as no surprise to scientists who have recorded increased levels of dopamine and serotonin after intentional gratitude meditations.
The Physical Benefits Of Gratitude
This is where it gets interesting. It’s one thing to feel better emotionally, but the release of these “feel-good” hormones affects your physical body as well. Gratitude reduces stress and with it, you’re sleeping better, your blood pressure lowers, and you have more energy. As a result, you move more, leading to even better overall physical health. Maybe your gratitude exercise motivates you to go out for a walk, getting more oxygen into your body and loading up on Vitamin D. Being able to sleep soundly reduces appetite and less stress helps you make smarter food choices. All these things work hand in hand to turn you into a healthier and stronger version of yourself.
Gratitude is particularly important for heart health. Between the lower blood pressure and reduced stress, you are putting less strain on your heart. The added exercise and sleep strengthen your heart muscle and give this most important organ time to recover and heal overnight. With heart disease one of the leading causes of death in modern society, there’s never been a better time to practice gratitude and let go of stress.
How can you tap into both the mental and physical benefits of gratitude? By feeling more of it. Of course that’s easier said than done. A great place to start is by creating a habit of thinking of at least one person or one thing you are deeply grateful for each morning as soon as you wake up. It sets the tone for the whole day and gets you off to a great start to reap these powerful benefits. Give it a try!
Gratitude – It’s All About Choices
How you feel – how happy you are, how stressed you are, even how well you sleep – may seem like it’s out of your hand, but it is actually a choice you make. You can choose to be grateful for what you have and happiness follows. Or you can choose to focus on what you’re lacking, who has wronged you, and what’s not going your way. And guess what? You’ll feel miserable. You may blame others, circumstances, or fate for your unhappiness. But at the end of the day it’s all about you and the choices you make. You choose happiness or misery.
How can you make sure you make the right choices throughout life? One of the simplest ways to ensure you live a happy and fulfilled life is to focus on gratitude. Of course that’s easier said than done. You get upset when your friend stands you up on your lunch date and that’s okay. How you choose to move forward from here is what will make the difference. You can choose to dwell on the slight you think your friend gave you. The more you think about it, the angrier you get. Instead of having lunch at the new restaurant you were looking forward to trying, you get back into your car, drive home and let it ruin your day. That’s a choice. Now let’s look at a different one.
Same scenario. Your friend stands you up. You’re disappointed and maybe even a little mad. You take a deep breath, let those negative feelings go and make a choice based on gratitude. What can you find in this situation that you can be grateful for? Maybe you’ve been wishing for some quiet alone time so you can hear yourself think. Maybe there’s a store you’ve wanted to check out or a movie you’ve wanted to see for a while and this is the time to do it. Maybe there’s an old friend you’ve been meaning to visit. Or maybe you’ll simply enjoy a good meal by yourself and grab some takeout for your spouse on the way out the door.
Instead of heading home angry, you’re going home grateful for these few special hours you carved out for yourself. And who knows. Maybe you talk to your friend later that evening and find out that she had a family emergency that caused her to miss your lunch date. How guilty would you feel then about the anger you let yourself feel towards her? And how guilty would she feel for having ruined your day? Instead, focusing on gratitude and making the best of the situation, you created happiness for yourself. If you ask me, that’s some sort of super power.
Forgiveness – What’s Holding You Back?
The more you read and learn about the power of gratitude on both body and mind, the more amazed you will be about how much it can do for you. Let’s take a look at how forgiveness can free us from the things that are holding us back. More importantly, let’s dive a little deeper and into the mind body connection of practicing (or not practicing) forgiveness. We’ll wrap things up with a surprising notion that you can’t afford to miss.
Think back on the last time you held a grudge. What did that feel like? Did you have a knot in your stomach? Did you have trouble sleeping? Were you distracted from other, more important things? What did you lose because you chose to stay angry at the other person? Holding a grudge isn’t good for you. Not only that, but the person you’re holding the grudge against probably doesn’t even remember what they did. They are not suffering because you’re upset. You are. You’re holding on to all that negativity and it’s solely poisoning you. And it doesn’t stop at destroying your mental health. All this anger and resentment can and will make you physically sick. Your blood pressure goes up; your immune response goes down. You’re not sleeping well which has other health implications. And let’s not even talk about all the junk food you’re eating while in this state of stress.
Don’t let holding a grudge make you sick. Instead, focus on forgiveness and gratitude. Take a deep breath and find it in your heart to forgive the other person. It’s not easy, but it is within your power. Be the better person. Take the higher road. Do it for yourself because you know you will instantly feel better and it will do wonders for your mental and physical health and wellbeing.
I hinted at the fact that there’s something surprising about forgiveness earlier. I’m sure you’re eager to know what that’s about and why it’s something you need to know. It’s the idea that forgiveness isn’t really about the person you are forgiving. Sure, there are times when they appreciate or even demand your forgiveness. But even so, the person benefiting the most is you. Forgiveness isn’t for the other person. It’s what sets you free and allows you to pursue happiness and be fulfilled in your own life.
To recap, forgiving the other person benefits you. It improves your mental wellbeing and your physical health. It makes you sleep better at night and have a good outlook on life. Don’t let that old grudge steal your happiness. Practice forgiveness and feel gratitude that you have it in your power to decide if you let any slight hold you back or not.
Happiness – A Conscious Focus.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret I learned years ago that has served me well. What you focus on comes to pass. When you practice gratitude you are training your mind to be more positive and this has some interesting physical implications. Practicing gratitude and positive thinking directly affects your brain chemistry. That’s right, by focusing on gratitude and happiness; you control the release of certain chemicals and neurotransmitters that influence how you feel both physically and mentally. Let’s take a look at how that works.
More Feel Good Hormones
Focusing on happiness and gratitude leads to the release of two “feel good” hormones – dopamine and serotonin. These two neurotransmitters are responsible for those fuzzy warm feelings. Yes, there are other ways to get them like exercise and chocolate for example. But who wouldn’t want to increase these powerful antidepressants with something as simple as giving and receiving gratitude for example. This stresses the point that you are able to make your own happiness. And it’s not just a mental exercise. Focusing on positivity, making a conscious effort to be more grateful and happier changes the balances of hormones and neurotransmitters in your body and your brain.
In short, practicing gratitude and the resulting feeling of happiness are a powerful strategy to beat depression and anxiety, often working better than prescription drugs – and without the nasty side effects.
Fewer Stress Hormones
When you are anxious or scared, the body releases stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and the likes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It helps you react fast when you’re about to be hit by a car and make you run faster when you need to get away from someone. But it works against you and robs you of your health and wellbeing when it’s a response to something that isn’t a physical danger. Like tax day or worrying about what your co-worker thinks of you.
Stress hormones can lead to weight gain, depression, anxiety, and they take a toll on your heart. You know you should do what you can to reduce the stress you feel and as it turns out, one of the most powerful strategies here is practicing gratitude and positive thinking. So choose happiness and know that you are doing wonders for your mental and physical health.
So what’s the bottom line? When you are mindful of all of the things you are grateful for in your life then you can learn to appreciate all the good even in the midst of the bad and cultivate happiness. Stop waiting for the right person, the right circumstances. Don’t wait for happiness to find you. Be happy right now. In this moment. And use gratitude to help you get there.
Adversity – Staying Positive When Life Falls Apart
We take a lot of good things for granted in our everyday life. A roof over our heads, a steady paycheck, a loving partner, the ability to go out for a run on the weekends. The specifics vary, but one of the big advantages of modern lives is the many awesome things we can count on. We’re not used to falling short, so when something happens and our life starts to fall apart, it’s easy to fall into thinking patterns that focus on lack and despair.
Sometimes the bad things are a result of choices we made. Sometimes they are outside of our control. In either case, it is up to us to decide how we react to each crisis. One piece of advice that is important to remember no matter what adversity you face is to make sure you don’t forget about how blessed you really are. Gratitude can turn what we have into enough.
There’s a quote I love and would like to share with you by Melody Beattie. Here it is:
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Think about how you can start to do this in your everyday life. A good place to start is to simply take a deep breath and pause for a moment when things go wrong and everything is starting to feel overwhelming. Then come up with one little thing you are grateful for during this time. It can be something as simple as being able to breathe fresh, clean air, or living to fight another day.
Find that something and start to build on it. What else are you grateful for? Keep making that list until the desperation starts to lift and you can start to think clearly. When you do, you can start to find your way out, no matter how bad things seem at first. And remember, you never know what good might come from the struggle you are facing right now.
When live gives you lemons, make lemonade and don’t forget to count your blessings and use gratitude to turn what you have into enough. Our ancestors were great at this. It’s time we picked that habit back up.
But What If You’re Stuck In Negativity?
Practicing gratitude and focusing on positivity is easier said than done. Especially if you are struggling with anxiety and depression. If you ever find yourself spiraling into the deep pit of depression then get help if you need it. There’s nothing wrong with talking to a counselor or getting therapy. It’s the smart thing to do.
When things aren’t quite that bad, there’s a lot you can do to get yourself unstuck from all that negativity. Start by acknowledging them and putting them into words. How exactly do you feel? Is it anger or annoyance? Frustration or disappointment? Try to be specific. Dig deep. Yes, it can be painful and some people prefer to avoid thinking about these feelings, but the first step to getting yourself unstuck is determining exactly where you are emotionally.
Once you’ve identified the feeling, you can start to work on discovering what caused them. Sometimes the answer is obvious. Other times, not so much. In either case, I encourage you to dig deep because often the obvious answer isn’t the real root cause. Yes, you may be mad at our spouse for running up the credit card bill, but if you dig deep, you may discover that there are some underlying core values that don’t align between the two of you.
Once you find the true reason for your negative feelings, you can start to work to resolve them. What that looks like will vary from case to case. The important takeaway here is that it gives you something specific and meaningful to do. You no longer feel out of control or helpless. It’s something you can work with and that alone will help you think more positively.
In addition, it allows you to distance yourself a little from the negative feelings. You may still be upset with your spouse, but it also gives you the space to remember everything you love about him or her. It gives you the space to act outside of the negativity and have a good relationship while you work things out. And sometimes, it may give you the mental space you need to realize that it is up to you to decide if you want to continue to dwell in the negativity, or choose a route of forgiveness. You can’t change everything or everyone. Sometimes your path toward positivity is to acknowledge your negative feelings and then let them go.
Of course all of this is easier said than done. A journal can be a great tool to help you along the way. Try talking to a close friend or confidant when you feel stuck and you can’t see a path towards positivity. An outside perspective can give a lot of clarity. Meditation can be helpful as well.
Last but not least, surround yourself with positivity. Get outside and enjoy nature. Spend some time helping others. And don’t forget to remind yourself regularly of everything you have to be grateful for.
Turning Gratitude Outward – Sharing With The World
Practicing gratitude regularly has a bit impact on your life, your health, and your mental and emotional wellbeing. But it doesn’t end there. It will also have a big impact on those around you and the world at large when you start to turn your gratitude outwards and share it far and wide.
Roman writer and philosopher Cicero called gratitude the parent of all virtue. In other words, if we practice gratitude we’re also getting better at things like kindness, generosity, orderliness, courage, honesty and respect to name a few. What does this mean in practical terms? If we practice gratitude, we can’t help but become a better person.
Now let’s take this a step further. What if, instead of simply practicing gratitude for yourself, you take it out to the world at large? What could happen? What force of good could you create? There is no telling how many lives you could influence for the better. Let’s take a look at how you, I, and everyone else reading this can start to turn their gratitude outward and share it with those around them.
Random Acts of Kindness
Do something kind for a stranger. This can be something as simple as giving an open and honest smile to a stranger on the street or a few kind words and a compliment for the cashier ringing up your groceries. Or it could be taking a meal to an elderly neighbor or buying a drink for the person behind you in the coffee shop drive-thru line. Make it a goal to do something kind for someone each day and do it intentionally.
Respect And Thank Those Who Serve You
There are so many people in our communities that serve us from first responders to the waitress at your favorite restaurant. Make it a point to be respectful and thank them with words, with actions, and in the case of that waitress with a generous tip. Show them how grateful you are for everything they do to make your life easier.
Volunteer In Your Community
What better way to show your gratitude than to give your time and your skills. There are many opportunities for anyone to volunteer in various projects and for a variety of different causes. See what’s available around you and make an effort to put in some time to volunteer each month. Not only is it a wonderful way to give back and spread gratitude, but you’ll be amazed at how much you get out of it.
Develop Deeper Relationships
Last but not least, I would like to encourage you to work on developing deeper relationships. You will have a stronger sense of gratitude and lead by example when you make the time to listen and actively work on coming closer to the people you love.
Now that you have some ideas, the ball is in your court. What will you do today, this week, or this month to spread gratitude in your own circle of influence? Go out there and make an impact. Make the world a better and more grateful place.
Living Abundantly By Showing And Sharing Gratitude
Would you like to live abundantly full of happiness and contentment? How about a life with excellent physical and mental health? Greatly increase your chances of that happening by showing and sharing gratitude. That’s right, something as simple as practicing thankfulness and expressing how grateful you are for the people and things you have in your life has a powerful impact. Here are some simple things you can do starting today to show your gratitude.
- Tell the people you love how grateful you are for them. We often take the ones closest to us for granted. Make a point to do it regularly and be specific to make it meaningful.
- Think about the people who challenge you. Express your gratitude for how they help you grow and make you stronger.
- Take a few minutes each week to write a letter or email to a person who has made a difference to you at one point or another. This could be a teacher, a mentor, an old friend … anyone you can think of.
- Give the gift of your time to someone to show without words how grateful you are to have them in your life. This is particularly important for the elderly people in your life. Your time with them is limited. Make the most of it.
- Start using a gratitude journal and make the time to write down three things you are grateful for every single day. It will brighten even your worst days and put things into perspective.
- Forgive yourself when you don’t reach all your goals, or things don’t go your way. Be grateful for what you have and what you are learning from each experience.
- Compliment the people around you. Make them feel good about themselves. It’s a powerful way to show gratitude in an indirect way. Small, meaningful gifts and acts of service do the same.
- Pay it forward. Do something nice for someone you work with or a total stranger. Random acts of kindness are a wonderful way to spread gratitude and bring more positivity into the world.
- Give a hug and a kind word to someone who’s struggling. Show them through physical affection that you’re there for them and grateful to have them in your life.
- Show your body and mind gratitude for what they do for you day in and day out by taking care of yourself and investing in regular self-care.
I’ll leave you with a quote. Take a moment to read it, re-read it, and really let it sink in.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”William Arthur Ward