When thinking of strategies to integrate self-care into our hectic lives, our minds tend to gravitate towards mindfulness exercises such as yoga and meditation, or activities that relax our bodies such as soaking in a hot bath. However, another effective way to enhance your well-being is by practicing gratitude.
Practicing gratitude gives people the opportunity to identify and reflect on the things they have in their lives, tangible or intangible, that they are thankful for. And what better time to look at these benefits than as we approach Thanksgiving?
How does gratitude change the brain?
There are many benefits of maintaining a grateful attitude. According to a 2003 study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, individuals who expressed gratitude regularly reported having a better disposition in life and higher levels of positive emotions. They also tended to express fewer unpleasant emotions such as jealousy.
These changes are possible because, according to the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA, expressing and receiving gratitude causes the brain to release the feel-good chemicals dopamine (which is linked to happiness) and serotonin (which helps regulate mood overall).
Psychiatric counselor Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury explains that thankfulness is also linked to an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for regulating negative emotions. This means that practicing gratitude boosts our happiness, regulates our mood, and reduces negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, or shame, all at the same time.
How does gratitude enhance well-being?
Gratitude doesn’t only impact the brain, but it is also linked with several other physical benefits, such as an improved sleep cycle and pain alleviation.
Expressing thanks is also linked to a healthier heart, and according to the American Psychological Association, may help reduce cardiac risk and diseases.
Practicing gratitude on a daily basis can also help those who struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy because grateful people tend to spend more of their focus appreciating others and themselves for whatever they can accomplish, and don’t dwell on feelings of resentment for what others have.
How to practice gratitude
Regularly give thanks
Just like any practice, establishing the habit of expressing gratitude on a regular basis will take some time and effort. Make sure to set aside time each day or week to reflect on what you are thankful for. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as repeating a general mantra to yourself, or by looking at yourself in the mirror and identifying specific things that you are grateful for out loud.
Keep a gratitude journal
Emmon’s and McCullough’s 2003 study discovered that those who wrote down what they were grateful for regularly were more likely to demonstrate greater optimism about their lives after only two months. Those who kept a gratitude journal were also 25 percent happier than those who only thought about the things they were grateful for.
It may make you feel nervous or self-conscious to let someone know that you are grateful for them, however, don’t let that hold you back from thanking someone for something they have done. This can be a transformative practice that won’t only make you feel good, but will also uplift those around you.
If meditating is already something you do, then consider weaving gratitude into your practice by focusing on a different aspect of your life that you are grateful for every time you meditate.
Try a gratitude exercise
If there is another gratitude exercise that resonates more with you than the ones mentioned above, then don’t be afraid to give it a try. Promoting gratitude in your life can be as simple as saying a prayer each day when you wake up or before going to bed, or it can take the form of taking a daily walk to connect with nature as you spend time reflecting on everything you are grateful for.