“Enjoy the little things, for one day you might look back and realize they were the big things.”
The holiday season is almost upon us. It’s the perfect time to consider the goodness in our lives and to appreciate the people who make us feel strong and loved.
To give thanks is to express gratitude or gratefully acknowledge favors or services from someone or something other than yourself.1 Personally, I see gratitude as experiencing a deep, positive emotion that gives you a sense of well-being and makes you want to share that feeling. Maybe through a gesture or through spreading optimism.
Experts agree that feeling gratitude can benefit health in many ways including raising the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, creating a natural high.2 The cultivation of ‘feel-good’ happiness hormones can have a positive domino effect on attitude, sleep, anxiety levels, blood pressure, and the immune system.
Being grateful and showing gratitude is an easy way to change your perception and can have lasting effects on the brain. A study involving almost 300 adults found that participants who wrote gratitude letters experienced better mental health compared with participants who wrote about negative emotions and experiences and participants who wrote nothing at all. The results lasted even 12 weeks after the writing exercises ended. The letters didn’t even need to be delivered, just written. The takeaway from the study; “When people felt more grateful, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making.”3
A 2015 study by researcher Deepak Chopra and UC San Diego demonstrated that gratitude and spiritual well-being was associated with: less fatigue and depressed mood, lower levels of inflammatory markers, better sleep, and increased cardiac function.4
For those of us living with autoimmune disease, reducing stress levels is an important part of a health management plan. If we implement practicing gratitude every day, we can potentially lower our stress hormones. In a study by R McCarty, 45 adults were taught to cultivate appreciation. After a month, 23% of participants had a reduction in the stress hormone, cortisol. This stress-reduction directly impacted 80% of the participants with better heart rate variability.5
Gratitude can build stronger immunity. Researchers at Utah and Kentucky universities found that students who viewed themselves as optimistic had more disease-fighting cells in their bodies.6
Practicing gratitude can alleviate pain. Dr. Nicola Davies PhD., states in an article in Pain-Free Living Magazine; “Gratitude decreases sensitivity to pain while improving pain tolerance.” 7
According to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis; “Research shows that when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system is triggered and that can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and perhaps increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel so good.” Emmons also states that having a daily gratitude practice can reduce the effects of aging on the brain.8
Gratitude can make us happier and healthier but let’s not lose sight of the fact that being grateful and showing appreciation is actually about other people.
Being truly thankful is acknowledging a heartfelt unprovoked gesture. One that you received, ‘just because.’ Not because you were entitled to it. Not because you deserved it. It’s appreciating a gift that you had no control over but that provided deep happiness. It’s remembering a positive experience from a childhood memory. The sun shining after a particularly dark week. Feeling joyful after hearing from a good friend who somehow knew you needed to talk. Your spouse picking you a flower during a walk. Someone bringing you a coffee when you were facing a difficult day. It’s someone or something that offers hope and makes you smile. It doesn’t matter what it is. Being thankful for the good things in our lives makes us feel gratitude. Gratitude makes us feel good and in turn, we want to share that feeling. Spread it around. Watch it grow.
So, the next time someone goes out of their way to say hello, call, visit, send you a card; don’t just go on auto-pilot with a quick, meaningless, “thanks!” Stop and take the time to thank that person properly. Let them know that you truly recognize and appreciate their gesture. You’ll feel good, they’ll feel good and all that positivity and happiness is contagious.
What can you do to cultivate gratitude?
- Keep a gratitude journal- Every day write down one thing you appreciated that day, and why.
- Write a gratitude letter- Once a month, write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life or showed you kindness. You can deliver it, or not.
- Write a thank-you note- A real one, not an email or a text.
- Text a friend- let them know why you are grateful for their friendship.
- Make a mental note- Every day think of three things you are grateful for.
- Make a gratitude list- List your reasons to give thanks.
This holiday season I will take the time to acknowledge the people in my life who always have my back. I will reflect on the little things that make a big impact on my well-being; those sunny, crisp days that give me the inspiration to get out and exercise. The solitude of morning walks when there is nothing but birdsong and reflection. The gift of seeing a beautiful sunset or a doe in my backyard. Enjoying the beautiful fall foliage on my drive home today which put me in a great mood. (See picture above) I will strive to see every morning as a new beginning with endless potential and I’ll be thankful for it.
What are you thankful for?
1 www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/thanks 2 https://www.naturalstacks.com/blogs/news/5-ways-gratitude-changes-our-brains 3https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10503307.2016.1169332?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=tpsr20 4 https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/scp-0000050.pdf 5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9737736 6 https://www.today.com/health/be-thankful-science-says-gratitude-good-your-health-t58256 7 Pain Free Living Magazine, The Power of Gratitude by Nicola Davies, PhD, Oct/Nov 2018, p28-31 8https://www.today.com/health/be-thankful-science-says-gratitude-good-your-health-t58256