Actively exercising the art of gratitude may have more benefits than one realizes. Expressing thanks to others, being grateful for specific things, or holding a general sense of gratitude within can impact one’s emotional and mental health in addition to relationships with others.
Gratitude and Health
The practice of being grateful can physically affect your health. Patients with heart failure who kept a gratitude journal were able to reduce symptoms associated with their illness.
These individuals were able to sleep better, experienced an improved mood, and reduced inflammation. Gratitude can also help us combat feelings of depression, encourage feelings of optimism, strengthen self confidence, and even reduce stress.
When expressing thanks to others it can help open doors for communication. Expressing our appreciation not only helps others to feel loved, validated, and recognized, but it also helps us to realize and be mindful of the good others do in our lives.
When we can recognize others’ good deeds and how they contribute to our life satisfaction, we too can feel loved, noticed, and cared for. Expressing appreciation can help mend relationships and invite a sense of security, allowing each other to let our walls down and be honest with one another.
Giving thanks to others is something proactive we can do to maintain and nourish a healthy and long lasting relationship.
Gratitude and Perspective
Having a grateful eye and heart is similar to developing a new muscle. If we are out of practice, it might seem difficult to find things to be grateful for. It takes practices to learn how to adjust our perspective and open our eyes to the many opportunities we have to give thanks.
When someone cuts us off while driving, it is easy to shake our fists to the sky and curse upon that driver. Instead, we could think, “I’m so glad I didn’t get hit by that driver, thank goodness my car wasn’t scratched, there wasn’t an accident, and I don’t need to pull over and deal with car insurance.”
In times when it seems impossible to be grateful, it is ok to just leave space open and be grateful for simple things like the fact that you’re alive, have air to breathe, and a sun that shines.
How to Be Grateful
Indeed, being grateful can be as simple as sitting down and thinking about all the things we are grateful for. There are many creative ways to express gratitude and a variety of ways to spice it up, encouraging you to look for new things and avoid getting into a repetitive cycle of being mindlessly grateful for the same things over and over again.
Some gratitude exercises are:
- Develop Gratitude Categories: Come up with different categories to focus on for the day or week. For example, for a week be grateful for different things in nature or focus on being grateful for people at work.
- Begin and End Your Day with Gratitude: Begin your day with thanksgiving for the things you are looking forward to, end your day with thanks for the things you experienced that day.
- Write Thank You Cards: It could be fun to write thank you cards and mail them, even if you are mailing it back to your own house to your spouse or children.
- Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal: Keep a pocket sized notebook as a running daily gratitude journal. You can write in it at a specific time of the day or as soon as there is something to be grateful for.
- Express Gratitude to Random Contacts: Scroll through your contacts and pick a random name, express gratitude to that person.
Although practicing gratitude has many health benefits and is a positive healthy practice, it should not replace therapy. Gratitude exercises may be a part of therapeutic activities; nevertheless, it is always best to see a professional mental health counselor to cope with mental health issues.
Not sure how to get started?
Get in touch with a trained medical professional who can offer some guidance.