Is Gratitude Really That Great?

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The American culture celebrates Thanksgiving each year in November – a celebration of thankfulness, stemming from early lore of welcoming, sharing a meal, and community.  Ironically, the day after this holiday, we then immerse ourselves into a culture of consumerism, but that is for another blog.  While there may be controversy about the origins of the tradition, the desire to embrace and encourage gratitude appears to be an increasing trend.  Is this actually helpful?

Research says, yes.  Well-being, particularly related to emotional expression, was increased in research subjects who were tasked with making a daily gratitude list, as compared to those who were tasked with listing grievances, or those who did not list anything at all.  Increasing research demonstrates the benefits of mindfulness for a variety of stresses and distresses.  Gratitude cultivation can be an important component of mindfulness.

Practicing gratitude simply means taking time, each day, to focus on what you appreciate.  It isn’t a Pollyanna, “rose-colored glasses” means of re-framing the worlds grievances – there are plenty of things to be irritated and upset about, validly!  It simply means increasing the balance in your thoughts of focusing time and space for the appreciations that you have.

The ways that gratitude increases well-being are numerous.  Gratitude opens your awareness up to new relationships, and new friendships.  As you are cultivating appreciation, you may think grateful thoughts towards a colleague who did a kind deed, which may then spark a desire to drop a thank you note on their desk – which can lead to increased interactions, and a new friendship.  Because gratitude may cultivate appreciation for ones health and body functions, those that focus on cultivating gratitude tend to have increased physical health.  Those that create their gratitude lists before bed report greater quality of sleep.  Emotional health, empathy, and self-esteem are also improved.

Ways to increase your awareness and intentional focus on gratitude are as variable as the people who wish to increase their happiness.  The key is finding what works for you, personally.  Some examples include keeping daily or weekly gratitude lists, having a designated time each day to pause and look for things to appreciate.  You may wish to cue this with a daily “treat” such as a morning cup of coffee, or evening bath, and allowing yourself to focus on the senses – the smell of the coffee, the feeling of the suds in the tub, the view of the clouds in the sky.  Looking to others and what you may appreciate in them is an easy way of gratitude, and is particularly helpful if you are feeling irritated at someone.  It’s hard to feel angry and grateful simultaneously.

Gratitude is a wonderful practice, but as with all things that are a good for us, it takes time and intention to build it up into a habit.  Our providers can help increase opportunities for gratitude, which translates to better emotional and physical outcomes.  And that is a lot to be grateful for!

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