We’ve all heard that being grateful helps improve our mental and physical health. Gratefulness makes our lives overall more enjoyable. If we know living in gratitude is important, why are we not implementing it in our daily lives? The blur of adult living often leaves us exhausted at the end of the day, feeling stretched, and sometimes overwhelmed. It feels hypocritical to be exhausted and then say we are grateful. Sometimes life is real hard, so what place does gratitude have among the chaos?
Expressing gratitude can’t wait until life is calm enough to be worthy of feeling grateful. We must exercise the muscle of gratitude, even when we don’t think we can. By implementing gratitude rituals into our daily lives, we strengthen our ability to feel it authentically. How do we accomplish this goal? The same way we make any self-improvement changes – we make a plan and stick with it, even on the days we don’t want to. What should that plan look like?
Research has shown that writing out what we’re thankful for will increase our sense of gratitude and joy. Dr. Agus, a CBS News contributor, shared a finding from a study in which three groups of people were asked to write in their journals each day. The first group was told to write down the things they were grateful for, the second group wrote only the stressful events they experienced, and the third group journaled about neither positive nor negative but neutral topics. Dr. Agus reported that “at the end of 10 weeks, the people who had gratitude, who wrote down the gratitude, actually had better self-esteem and they felt better about themselves and their lives. So it works. All of us can improve by just writing down what we care about.”
Action: For the next four weeks, commit to writing down one sentence about what you’re grateful for at the end of each day. By putting this practice into our lives, we will experience a higher level of gratitude for what is working in our lives, even if we have to sift through the areas we find stressful.
Inner Dialogue and Spoken Words
In the same way that journaling can improve our sense of gratitude, speaking words of gratefulness can also help improve our mood and life outlook. What we think is what we feel. Our thoughts drive our feelings and the biochemical reactions that follow. In the counseling world, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based theory used by many professionals to help clients gain a greater sense of life gratitude. CBT helps clients replace negative thoughts with healthier, more productive ways of thinking. When we change the way we think, it changes the way we feel.
Action: Listen to your inner dialogue and the words you are speaking. How often are they negative? Do they reflect your desire to live a life full of gratitude? Taking note of our thoughts helps us not to be unknowingly ruled by them. If your thoughts and words aren’t serving you, commit to replacing them. It’ll take time to learn to think and then speak differently, but we must start somewhere and celebrate our small steps of improvement.
Living a life where we express our gratitude isn’t just a nice thought or some self-help mumbo-jumbo. There are tangible, positive outcomes from training ourselves to practice gratefulness in our daily lives. Research done by the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed that blood flow in the brain changed when the test subjects focused on the things in their lives they were grateful for. According to Alex Korb, Ph.D., the researchers “found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. This is important because the hypothalamus controls a huge array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking, and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels. From this evidence on brain activity, it starts to become clear how improvements in gratitude can have such wide-ranging effects from increased exercise, and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains.”
Being able to implement daily expressions of gratitude into our life will have a lasting, positive impact. It may take time to create the habit of journaling and catching our thoughts and words, but the efforts will be well worth the benefits. Our mind, body, and spirit will all be healthier, and that will lead to even more reasons to be grateful.