Did you know a regular gratitude practice is good for your health and well-being?
Expressing gratitude on a regular basis boosts immunity, improves sleep, supports heart health, and helps you better manage stress. Plus, it feels good!
Practicing gratitude is like anything else, it takes time, consistency and commitment to reap the full benefits. It’s like building muscles at the gym. You’ve got to show up and do weight bearing activities to activate and strengthen your muscles. The results build over time. Meditation is another example. It takes practice to master the power of thought awareness and stillness. Yet, with regularity it gets easier and more intuitive.
Cultivating a gratitude practice is well worth it not only for the health benefits but also for the powerful, positive ripple effect you create one act of kindness at a time. Gratitude connects you not only to others but also to yourself by grounding you in the good. It truly nourishes your mind, body and soul.
Here are 6 health benefits of a regular gratitude practice:
- Improves relationships. Practicing gratitude creates a positive mindset and makes you happier. This creates prosocial behavior, which typically attracts and encourages healthy relationships. You are also better able to spot negative, toxic people and create distance.
- Supports healthy immune function. Grateful people tend to have other healthy habits such as a healthy diet, a regular exercise schedule, healthy relationships and good sleep habits. These factors support immune function and reduce inflammatory markers that can be a precursor to disease.
- Improves sleep. When you consistently focus on the good it eases anxiety, depression and intrusive negative thought patterns which disrupt sleep. Gratitude ensures sleep is consistent and restorative.
- Benefits cardiovascular health. Gratitude gives you a sense of personal autonomy, purpose in life, positive relationships with others, and a commitment to personal growth all of which encourage you to make healthy lifestyle choices which support heart health. A grateful heart is a happy heart.
- Helps you better manage stress. When you approach your day with a positive mindset, and habitually look for the good in situations, you are best able to approach problems as opportunities and issues as challenges to overcome.
- Enhances mood and a sense of well-being. Focusing on the good fuels a growth mind-set which is the belief that you can evolve, grow and change despite circumstances. This perspective allows you to see events in your life as opportunities happening “for you” not challenges happening “to you”.
Here are 6 practices to flex your gratitude muscles:
- Start a gratitude journal to note the things you are grateful for each day. You can buy a pretty journal, use a spiral notebook or use the notes section on your smartphone. Choose what resonates with you. You can write long paragraphs, bullet point or a list. Pick what works for your lifestyle. This is practice is for you. You can journal about small things like the first sip of a morning latte, and the sight of a brilliant red cardinal or big things, like your job, and the health of your children.
- Write a gratitude letter or email to a friend, family member or coworker. Authentically express what you love about them and why you are grateful they are in your life. And, don’t expect anything in return. This is a gift of recognition from you to someone you value in your life. We often take for granted the people who are closest to us, yet they mean the most. Taking the time to send a love note, gives you a rush of good feelings, and it gives the recipient the feeling of being seen, heard and valued. It feels good to give just as it does to receive.
- Challenge yourself each day to focus on one thing you are grateful for, have it be your theme for the day. Give a stranger a compliment, offer to bag your own groceries, initiate a random act of kindness, pay for the customer behind you at the coffee shop. By choosing to anonymously give you are actually giving to yourself. You are creating a positive energy exchange with a fellow human that will continue to support you energetically throughout your day.
- Allow yourself to receive other’s praise, appreciation, and gratitude of YOU. If you struggle with receiving gratitude, make an effort to learn to accept compliments and thank-yous! Gratitude isn’t just about giving. Be able to receive other’s gifts is equally important. You are telling yourself that you are worthy and deserving of such acts of kindness. And, YOU ARE WORTH IT!
- Commit to one day a week when you won’t complain about anything. Develop awareness around how much time you spend complaining. Keep a tally on your phone, a notation at every verbal or non-verbal complaint. Often negative thoughts run in the background of our mind, and often they are the same complaints on repeat. Developing self-awareness is the first step to a “cut and replace” mind-set shift. Cut out the complaint and paste in a positive one instead. For example, you may complain about the traffic to work every morning. Cut that complaint out and replace it with something you are grateful for, like having the extra time to listen to a favorite podcast, or a chapter in an audible book. It could be you have time to call your mom. Cut out negative thoughts for uplifting ones.
- Focus on your strengths. Are you hard on yourself? Do you dwell on your shortcomings? I encourage you to flip the script and turn your attention to your strengths. Start by making a list of all the things you find yourself doing well. What have others praised you for? What positive feedback do you get at work? From a partner? If you are stuck, ask loved ones to help. Ask them what they think your signature strengths are. And, turn your perceived shortcomings into areas of growth. Are you impatient? Think of ways you can cultivate patience, like starting a breathwork or meditation practice.
Bonus gratitude practice:
The Naikan Reflection Exercise:
The Naikan Reflection is a self-reflection method initially developed in Japan. The entire exercise takes about 10 minutes to complete. Naikan means “looking within.” The exercise involves reflecting on the following three questions while focusing your attention on a particular person and time.
- What did this person give to me? (giving)
- What did I return to this person? (receiving)
- What trouble did I cause this person? (hurting)
Doing this reflection helps you to grow feelings of gratitude and appreciation for others. It also allows you to discover how much you may take versus give in personal relationships. Healthy relationships are reciprocal in nature, where both give and take from a full heart of gratitude.
I am grateful for you! I’d love to hear how these practices change your life.