Thanksgiving is just around the corner! It’s a celebration to relish with our friends and families and to enjoy all the fixings - that sumptuous turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Most of us revel in the celebration, but are we truly experiencing gratitude deep in our hearts?
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word, gratia, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation of what we have, whether tangible or intangible. In this way we acknowledge the goodness in our lives, and we realize that it’s bigger than just ourselves, since we also find it in the people around us, in nature, or in connection with our higher power.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, savor good experiences, improve our health (boosting sleep, immunity and decreasing the risk of disease), deal with adversity and build strong relationships.
Here are a few examples of researchers’ discoveries into the ways gratitude impacts our physical and mental health:
Writing a gratitude letter and counting our blessings had “high utility scores and were associated with substantial improvements in optimism.”
Gratitude buffers us from stress and depression.
Positive reframing gives us confidence about potential life outcomes.
Patients who expressed optimism and gratitude two weeks after an acute coronary event had healthier hearts.
Gratitude and spiritual well-being are related to positive affect, sleep quality, energy, self-efficacy, and lower cellular inflammation.
Whenever we express or receive gratitude the neurotransmitter dopamine (associated with pleasurable sensations) releases in our brains. The more we practice gratitude, the more often dopamine releases. Appreciating what we have can make us feel more optimistic and satisfied so we experience less frustration, envy and regret.
Gratitude can enhance our relationships. We’re attracted to positive people, and this positivity can make it easier to get along with others and even to discuss difficult things. Mutual appreciation for people in our lives results in a more satisfying relationship.
Those who practice gratitude right before bedtime, by listing things they feel grateful for, report better sleep. This is probably because gratitude diminishes anxiety and stressful feelings, allowing us to slip more easily into slumber.
This one attitude and practice may be the most important thing we can do to increase our good health and happiness, so let’s discover some more concrete ways to express it!
10 things you can do TODAY to increase your level of gratitude and create lasting happiness
1. Write a thank-you note. Send a card or an email to nurture your relationship with another person and make yourself happier by expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Try to send at least one gratitude letter a month, and maybe write one to yourself!
2. Thank someone mentally. No time to write? Just think about the person who’s done something kind for you.
3. Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with someone close to you thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you, as this helps you experience it more deeply.
4. Pray. Those who pray and connect to their higher power can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
5. Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgement. Focus on what you’re grateful for - the warmth of the sun, a delicious smell, or a pleasant sensation in your body.
6. Practice saying thank you in a real and meaningful way. Be specific, like “Thank you for taking the time to read my proposal and leave a comment. I enjoy reading your insights because they help me understand the subject better and I appreciate the window into your thoughts."
7. Create visual reminders to practice gratitude. Sticky notes and phone reminders, even a quick drawing, are great for this!
8. Focus on the good that others have done on your behalf.
9. Become a practiced “grateful gazer.” Be on the lookout for opportunities to see things that make you feel grateful.
10. Think about what your life would be like if a specific positive event wouldn’t have happened, or if a specific person wasn’t in your life. What if you hadn’t met your spouse? What if you hadn’t stopped that bad habit? What if you harbored a negative emotion and hadn’t worked to change it?
Enjoy your Thanksgiving and use these tips to create your best celebration and life ever!
I’d love to work with you to help you get on track with your physical health, positive mental outlook and exercise routine! You can call me at 720-320-4212, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
Here’s to your best health!
Dr. Trish PT, DPT