Written by Annabelle Blythe
Gratitude - the quality of being thankful, or a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Whether you incorporate a practice of gratitude in your daily life or not, the theme of gratitude is something that is on everyone’s minds this time of year. Thanksgiving is a time for connection to ourselves and others, and what better way to improve our relationships than with gratitude. But this practice is not something to only hold on to until Thanksgiving Monday is through - research shows that gratitude actually makes us happier across all aspects of life, and can improve our health and wellbeing.
Curious as to how being thankful and showing some love can cause all this?
From a biological standpoint, our brains interpret feelings of gratitude as optimism (Roman). Feelings of optimism calm and soothe the brain’s stress response, lowers stress hormones such as cortisol and ignites the relaxation response. When we are stressed out or in a state of “fight or flight”, our digestion shuts down, our ability to think clearly and see the whole picture is obstructed and we are more reactive to the situations going on in our life - not exactly the feelings you want to invoke during a family dinner! When our relaxation response is ignited, our mind is calm and clear, our heart rate slows, stress hormones go way down and we can exist in the world from a collected, stable place. Gratitude can get us here.
“Where focus goes, energy flows”
Furthermore, consistent practice with gratitude trains the brain to choose more positive thoughts more of the time (Roman). The brain will connect thoughts and words of gratitude with an overall sense of calm well-being, and over time new, strong neural pathways are formed. What does this mean exactly? We become more positive simply by thinking positive. This rewiring does not happen overnight, and consistency is key for this to work.
So what does this mean in the real world? Practicing gratitude can help you savour positive life experiences and appreciate what you have. Gratitude increases self worth and self esteem, dissolves negative feelings and encourages positive behaviour, ultimately strengthening the relationships you have with others and yourself (Lyubomirsky). A psychological study on couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner felt more positive towards the other person and more comfortable about expressing relationship concerns to their partner (Simon). Another study showed that managers who remember to say “thank you” to their employees find that those employees feel motivated to work harder (Simon). Cherish your people and your people will ultimately cherish you.
Gratitude can also help you cope with stress or trauma. One study from the University of California and Miami showed that when participants were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics, when comparing the group that wrote about things they were grateful for that week and the group that wrote about daily irritations, after ten weeks, the gratitude group were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fever visits to the doctor (Simon).
Ready to bring this transformational practice into your daily life? Here are a few simple ways to begin today:
- Say Thank You
Simple can be best! Cherish the people in your life by thanking them for what they do. Say thank you to anyone who helps you throughout your day, be it big or small - the guy who makes your coffee, your friend who provides a friendly ear in times of need - appreciate your people.
- Just Think It
Practicing gratitude can be as simple as thinking of 3 to 5 things you are grateful for upon waking, or right before you go to sleep. No need to be a hero, these can be little things too.
- Write It
Some people find it incredibly helpful to keep a gratitude journal! Like #3, but written. Daily, record a few things you are thankful for.
- Dedicate Your Practice
A beautiful way to express gratitude can be dedicating your yoga practice to someone you feel grateful for. Meditating on feelings of gratitude can also provide a lot of wonderful moments.
- Hug It Out
My personal favourite - hug someone! Physical touch is a key way that some people express and receive love. Giving long hugs (think three deep breaths) will show your love and appreciation, and provide some feel good oxytocin - the “cuddle hormone”, a hormone that your body releases that counteracts stress hormones, relaxing you and your partner.
Whether the holiday time invokes cherished memories for you, or you are feeling the pressure and strain of family gatherings, starting a gratitude practice will uplift yourself and those around you. May you have a beautiful holiday, filled with love and thanks!