The Benefits of Being Grateful
I used to tease my kids when they were grumpy and say, "Don't have a saditude!" or "Turn that frown upside down!" Those silly sayings would make them smile against their will, and that smile would contribute to a slightly better attitude.
We've all heard that even though circumstances are beyond our control, we have the power to choose how we react to them. But the question I've always asked is HOW do I get the strength or even the desire to react positively? Sometimes it just seems easier to stay down and complain about it rather than see the bright side of getting knocked down in the first place.
The more I read self-development books and biographies of successful people, I see common themes in their lives. Many of those are small habits done regularly for long periods of time. Some of those habits sound great, but are really difficult for me to adopt like getting up at 5 a.m., running miles a day, or never eating sugar. There is one habit, though, that I read about time and time again, that seems very doable for just about anyone - practicing gratitude.
As the holidays approach, you've likely been hearing more about gratitude than ever before. The research is abundant about how gratitude affects not only our attitude, but also our relationship with others and our mental, physical and spiritual health.
A Harvard Health Publishing article explains what happens when people begin to acknowledge the good things in their lives. "In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power."
Neuroscientists at USC have studied the impact of gratitude on the brain and have learned that there are actually links between being grateful and our brain structure. They have found that gratitude can prompt the creation of brain chemicals that increase feelings of being connected to others. It is important to note that the changes in the brain, and consequently in our lives, don't happen immediately, but actually accrue over time. This is actually kind of exciting because once you learn to incorporate gratitude into your routine, it becomes an automatic mood booster that is only going to grow as time goes on.
Practicing gratitude doesn't only benefit ourselves, but there is research to suggest that grateful people are more likely to be generous and altruistic. University of Oregon neuroscientist, Christina Karns, researched the connection between gratitude and generosity and learned that they are both controlled by the same area of the brain. Think about the snowball effect this has - the more grateful you are, the more likely you are to be giving, which could provide reason for others to be more grateful and give. This cycle could go on and on!
I think we are all convinced that being grateful is a good thing, but how do we actually learn to recognize what we are grateful for and achieve these benefits? The experts have suggestions including keeping a gratitude journal, writing letters of thanks, and visiting those you haven't properly thanked in the past. I want to share 10 of my favorite ideas with you, and I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!
I'm extremely grateful for all the blessings in my life, and it's a wonderful time of year to stop and recognize them all. I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving, and pray it is filled with gratitude and giving!
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Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health, Healthbeat, 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
Lindberg, Eric. “Practicing Gratitude Can Have Profound Health Benefits, USC Experts Say.” USC News, University of Southern California, 25 Nov. 2019, news.usc.edu/163123/gratitude-health-research-thanksgiving-usc-experts/.
Wong, Joel, and Joshua Brown. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley, 6 June 2017, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain.
Samuel, Sigal. “Giving Thanks May Make Your Brain More Altruistic.” Vox, Vox, 27 Nov. 2019, www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/11/27/20983850/gratitude-altruism-charity-generosity-neuroscience.
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