Get Expert Guidance in Gratitude Practices
Gratitude is a conscious, positive emotion one can express when feeling thankful for something, whether tangible or intangible.Much more than showing good manners, showing gratitude is a practice that requires acknowledging someone else's gesture towards us or the things that are going well in our lives. It involves both a process of recognition of the positive and its outcome.
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Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. Research studies published on gratitude support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being. Somr research has found that people who tend to be more grateful have more brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the area associated with learning and decision making. This brain activity persisted a month later, suggesting that gratitude has long-lasting effects.
Feeling grateful boosts positive emotions like joy and compassion while encouraging us to look for and connect with what’s good in life. This helps us switch our attention from toxic emotions, such as resentment and envy.
A continued gratitude practice starts having long-lasting effects on mood and behavior, which can snowball over time. One study showed that a single thoughtful appreciation leads to an immediate 10 percent increase in happiness and a 35 percent reduction in depressive symptoms. When it becomes a habit, it can help prevent anxiety and depression.
For many it can feel less natural to practice gratitude amid hectic lives or while feeling under pressure. To cultivate this attitude, it helps to break it down into two stages: affirmation of goodness, and figuring out where that goodness comes from.
1. Acknowledging the goodness in our lives, even when things are feeling a little off
It is a fact that our brain tends to focus on what's wrong, but why is that? Survival. We need to be able to identify the things that need to be fixed to reach solutions. Nonetheless, we need to gain perspective and allow ourselves to rest and enjoy what is going right. Tim Desmond proposes an exercise in his book How to Stay Human in a F*cked Up World where he invites us to take time in the average day to use visualization to see everything good in our lives in the present moment. As we do this practice, we start to identify the good things and a natural feeling of joy and gratitude. In this way, we can accept and admire the many aspects that make life worth living and our role in choosing many of them.
2. Recognizing that some of the sources of this goodness lie outside the self
Once we have identified the beauty in our present, we can actively access the second stage of gratitude: recognizing the good that comes from the outer world. As we start to experience this joy and gratefulness, we reach a point where recognizing and thanking the people around us, nature, a believe system, or even our luck, is a necessary and natural second step.
Gratitude allows us to recognize our connection to the rest of humanity and acknowledge others’ roles in our lives. This practice triggers stronger relationships between partners, families, friends, and colleagues as it leads us to an active recognition of our interdependence, regardless of whether it leads us to a specific action or not.
Research shows that gratitude can (Morin, 2014):
- Help you make friends. One study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek a more lasting relationship with you.
- Improve your physical health. People who exhibit gratitude report fewer aches and pains, a general feeling of health, more regular exercise, and more frequent checkups with their doctor than those who don’t.
- Improve your psychological health. Grateful people enjoy higher wellbeing and happiness and suffer from reduced symptoms of depression.
- Enhance empathy and reduces aggression. Those who show their gratitude are less likely to seek revenge against others and more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, with sensitivity and empathy.
- Improve your sleep. Practicing gratitude regularly can help you sleep longer and better.
- Enhance your self-esteem. People who are grateful have increased self-esteem, partly due to their ability to appreciate other peoples’ accomplishments.
- Increase in mental strength. Grateful people have an advantage in overcoming trauma and enhanced resilience, helping them to bounce back from highly stressful situations.
Building your capacity for gratitude isn’t difficult. It just takes practice. The more you can bring your attention to that which you feel grateful for, the more you’ll notice to feel grateful for
- Start by observing: Notice your thank yous. Just how much of a habitual response is it? Is it a hasty aside, an afterthought? How are you feeling when you express thanks in small transactions? Stressed, uptight, a little absent-minded? Do a quick scan of your body—are you already physically moving on to your next interaction?
- Pick one interaction a day: When your instinct to say “thanks” arises, stop for a moment and take note. Can you name what you feel grateful for, even beyond the gesture that’s been extended? Then say thank you.