Did you know studies on gratitude have found that people who practice gratitude are 25% happier, spend 30% more time exercising, sleep better, and have fewer health complaints? Even people who are very sick can benefit.
Regardless how you feel, the practice of gratitude speaks to the powerful connection between our mind and our body. But gratitude is far more deliberate than just saying thank you. Robert Emmons, Ph.D. said: “Gratitude is affirming the goodness in one’s life and recognizing that its source lies outside the self.”
Turns out gratitude is one big camouflaged lesson in humility.
When you’re not feeling particularly grateful, this practice takes effort. Even cajoling. When my kids fight I make them tell me (and each other) something they are grateful for, or admire, about the other. Let me tell you, sometimes this is excruciating! However, you will notice that once you start to immerse yourself in the emotional weight of truly being grateful – even for something very small – it’s a domino effect. You begin to see, more and more clearly, the extraordinary gifts around you.
With my kids, the process usually results in them laughing hysterically. Perhaps because they can’t think of anything more awe-inspiring than that the other has the worst smelling farts or is a Olympic medal worthy booger eater. Whatever. I live in a house full of boys! More than a punishment, this exercise helps them snap out of their selfish, ego-driven human nature to be first, right, and in control of everything, and gives them time enough to pause and remember that life isn’t all about them. And? Life is hard enough. We seriously don’t have to make it any harder.
Newsflash: Life? It isn’t all about you.
There are people and places and experiences and simple facts of existence that are so beautiful and glorious and stunningly good and we miss them every single day!
When is the last time you were truly grateful that the sun came up this morning, just like it’s promised? We take for granted the simple fact that every day we get a fresh, new start. Lucy Maud Montgomery said, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.” Isn’t that amazing? What about the way the sunshine feels on your skin, the dizzying intoxication of fresh clean sheets, or a melody that, in a moment, transports you a decade back in time? These things manifest goodness inside us — but originate outside of us.
Research professor, David DeSteno, Ph.D., found that appreciating the things we have today may help us resist the lure of immediate gratification. The impulse behind many of our worst habits. DeSteno found that people who feel grateful will delay an immediate cash reward in favor of a bigger one later on. “Gratitude makes us value the future. It increases people’s self-control and helps reduce impulsive behavior.” This translates to making better choices like regular exercise, going to bed at a reasonable hour and eating mindfully. Instead of putting our happiness in desired circumstances or the happenstance of a future event; gratitude helps us narrow in on what we have to be thankful for, right now.
My grandma, a stocky, spicy, no-nonsense powerhouse always said: I used to hate my legs until I met a man who had no legs. Perhaps the greatest gift comes when we start feeling grateful for ourselves. Emmons said: “People often report feeling grateful for their bodies for the ability to see, smell, and hear. As a result, they take better care of them.” In short: Gratitude turns what we have into enough.
I’m not sure what came first. The chicken or the egg…or the gratitude or the happy. Although I’m not really sure I care. It’s a circle — a big, healthy, happy circle of gratitude. When you open your eyes, you’ll see it’s happening right now, all around you. Perhaps there’s no better time to give thanks for your place, right in the center of it, than right now.
Five Simple Steps to Gratitude:
- See it: Gratitude isn’t always something we see with our eyes. I think it’s more like something we see with our heart. Close your eyes. Get quiet. Listen. Be present in your body. Your body holds all the answers you struggle to find in so many empty places. When you’re still and ready to listen it will tell you what it sees.
- Feel it: What does it feel like? Does this thing that your heart sees make your skin feel warm? Is it suddenly easier to breathe? Maybe you feel an immediate sense of peace? Feel what your body is feeling and follow it where it goes. Let it lead you through the sensation to the why.
- Journal it: There’s an invisible connection between writing something down and searing it into our brain. We all know many wars are won and lost in the battlefield of the mind. Each day, write down a few sentences about one thing that made you grateful and why. Close your eyes and remember what your heart saw and what your body felt. Be as specific as possible.
- Share it: There’s power in words. The Bible calls the tongue a double edged sword, with the power of life and death. Did you know you have the power to change the dialogue? Are you surrounded by people mired in pessimism or complaints? Are you magnetically drawn to critical spirits? Speak life. Start sharing the things you’re grateful for with a friend, on social media, or, even better, share your gratitude with the giver of it. See how much the practice of gratitude changes your environment. Your practice may be the one thing someone else can be grateful for that day.
- Remember it: Life is hard for everyone and some days are better than others. When you’re feeling low or particularly ungrateful, pull out your journal, or reflect back on a better day, to remind yourself that little gifts are everywhere. Even when you can’t see them.
Life is never short of dead ends, detours, and speed bumps to challenge our days. Far more interesting though, are the gifts along the way. Gratitude is not a gift for the wealthy, the privileged or the righteous; it’s simply a choice. A choice that, no matter how small, pays giant dividends. It turns out some sayings really are true: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” So today – in honor of your health and your happiness – I wonder: What are you grateful for?