Say a Word of Thanks – Practicing Gratitude
In Canada, October is the month we take stock of things we are thankful for, practice gratitude, and pause to say a word of thanks as we gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving.
This simple and very inconspicuous word has huge meaning and implications behind it, both for our physical and mental health.
But we’ve lost this valuable practice in the pursuit of something that never seems to satisfy us.
Here’s why you need to revive gratitude and make it a part of your daily practice.
The Science Behind Gratitude
Social and biological scientists alike have studied the effects of gratitude, one on the soul and the other on the brain.
Practicing gratitude has documented positive effects on the brain. This human sentiment activates brain areas that deal with feelings of reward, morality, connection, and empathy.
The brain releases ‘feel good’ hormones when one experiences or practices gratitude. This increases its experience of positivity, releasing neurotransmitters that produce feelings of long-lasting happiness and contentment.
Studies that have been conducted prove that the limbic part of the brain, which is responsible for regulating emotions, gets activated when we express gratitude.
Scientific work has also shown that those that express gratitude often reported a reduction in pain symptoms.
In fact, scientific research shows that the effects of gratitude, especially when practiced daily, can be almost the same as medications. Consciously practicing gratitude on a regular basis helps develop and strengthen neural pathways.
And thus, the effect of gratefulness on the brain can become perpetual.
The Psychology of Gratitude
A large body of work in the field of social psychology has studied the effects of gratitude on mental health and personality.
Proven benefits of gratitude can include:
- better sleep
- fewer symptoms of physical illness
- more happiness
- lower stress levels
- increased empathy
- high self-esteem
- increased resilience
When we practice gratitude, we focus on the small and simple delights in life. We look at everything we have in our lives from the perspective of being thankful for it. We abandon the fear of not being among the top tier in everything.
Social science shows that those of us who practice gratitude derive more happiness from life. Every experience becomes a joy and we’re delighted at the chance we’re given.
Cultivating gratefulness in everyday life gives you the ability to appreciate yourself and others around you. You can do this simply by standing in front of the mirror every day, in the morning or at night, and counting five things in your life that you’re grateful for.
You can extend this beyond yourself by reaching out to a friend or family member and planning a gratitude session with them. Look at what about them makes you grateful to have them in your life. They will reciprocate and it will give you a different perspective on yourself.
If you want a more concrete way of giving gratitude a place in your life, you can start a gratitude journal. Once a day, sit down and note down all that you’ve been grateful for during the day. It could be something as important as having children or something as simple as having a cup of tea in the warmth of the sun.
Simply listing things you are grateful for on a daily basis is a great gratitude practice. I also recommend a deeper dive into gratitude. This is a more intensive form of gratitude journaling, which if done 2 to 3 times per week, strengthens your gratitude practice and helps you embody the psychological and physiological benefits.
8 Steps to take a Deep Dive into Gratitude Journaling
- avoid general statements
- zero in on specific aspects and details of the person or thing you list
- create a ritual around your journaling – light a candle, set the mood, have a drink, meditate before you begin – whatever opens your heart and mind
- breathe and relax into it (it should never feel like a chore or an action item on a to do list)
- try to feel the gratitude in your body and mind as you write – be aware of sensations it triggers
- visualize your gratitude and why it actually matters
- choose a time that fits for you (first thing in the morning or shortly before bed are good times)
- it doesn’t have to be daily – 2 to 3 times per week is ideal, less is ok
If you’re feeling stuck about where you can start, we have a gratitude prompt journal that can help you.
Want to know more? Sign up to receive my free guide to gratitude journaling.
Send me a message at [email protected] to for your copy of our gratitude journal. It makes a perfect gift for Christmas, New Years, and birthdays.
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