"The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness 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." -Harvard Health
"Grateful people are much more likely to report physical and mental vigor (Happier Human, 2018)."
Yep, there are studies done about gratitude. Quite a lot, it turns out.
The one above, from PositivePsychology.com, seems fairly obvious upon reading, but how often do we actually think about the benefits of simply being thankful? And if you do think about this often, then kudos to you! And if not, kudos to you for reading this and being tuned into the benefits!
I love the title of this study from Berkeley: "How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain". This study took nearly 300 people who were about to begin counseling, the majority of whom were going for issues relating to anxiety and depression. Randomly dividing into three groups, one just went to counseling, one was told to write in detail about their negative experiences, and the third was assigned to write letters of gratitude to another person each week.
"What did we find? Compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. "
When I write down a list of what I am thankful for, how can I not feel brighter and more content after? In addition, when I randomly write someone a letter, I am filled with happy feelings. Have you experienced this? Or receiving mail from a friend, which fills me with happy gratitude, too. Or complimenting a stranger-- suddenly I have a smile on my face and feel a lightness as I walk away.
Two recurring themes to note: One is that a practice of gratitude takes time to reap all the positive effects, and that it does indeed leave a lasting positive effect on the brain.
So how are you practicing gratitude today, this week, this month? I'm sure you have many ways you can think of yourself, but here are some ideas if your brain needs some storming:
-write a thank you note to a friend
-look in the eyes of the cashier and say a warm thank you
-order from a small business on etsy and express your thanks in the 'note to seller' box
-write down a list of 'what I am grateful for'
-make a Joy Jar, writing down things that make you happy on slips of paper, put them into the jar, & pull one out when you need a smile
-hug a person in your household & thank that person for being there through this crazy time
-email an old professor or teacher to say something made you think of him or her, with a thank you for what you have learned
-find a gratitude phrase, write it out, place it next to your bed so as to start your day with gratitude
-follow my copy of Oprah & mentally say 'thank you' as soon as you open your eyes in the morning
I'm thankful for you reading this and spreading the love!
Stating the obvious too much to say there's an extra layer (or 10) of stress throughout the country this year??
There are many ways to help combat stress. Let's talk about one of them here:
Sit tall. Place your hands around the base of your ribs. Exhale all the air you can. As you slowly count to 8, inhale, feeling your hands being pushed outward by your rib cage as you do so. You sit taller still. Then just as slowly, exhale the air back out.
Do it again.
Do it one more time.
How do you feel? If you say even 2% better than you did one minute ago, I'll be happy!
I am fascinated by what breathing can do to calm us and energize us. (Not the energy that comes from a 'fight or flight' feeling, but the healthy energy of being ready to seize the day!)
Many experts have variations on breathing patterns to put into practice to calm the body (specifically, calm the parasympathetic nervous system), and it comes down to not the exact number of counts you inhale or exhale, but that you are mindfully slowing and controlling your breath.
For example, the above exercise in breathing. Maybe 8 counts felt too much for now? Start with counting to 4 slowly. Want to add another layer? Hold your breath after the inhale for 4-8 counts.
Today I took a gyrokinesis class for the first time. Talk about getting the body's natural energy stores going through breath. That is the basis of this technique.
Granted, any movement of the body helps to get the blood flowing, sending oxygen, increasing endorphins...but what I find neat about gyrokinesis is, well let's just give you the definition right from the source: "is a movement method that addresses the entire body, opening energy pathways, stimulating the nervous system, increasing range of motion, and creating functional strength through rhythmic, flowing movement sequences."
Sleep: Oh sleep. Stress goes up, sleep seems to goes down. Try the aforementioned breathing exercises as you are lying down in bed to help calm the body and mind. Google can give you a plethora of versions.
Again, it comes back to slow and controlled breathing.
One last thing--
This was too timely not to share.
A friend through the entertainment industry has created a podcast called The Luxury of Self-Care. In a recent post, she wrote the following:
(n) A state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquility.
Doesn't that just have the most delightful ring to it? Let us all keep taking steps in the direction of ataraxia. Today, that's to slow down our breathing and calm the body.
Let me know how it goes for you :)
P.S. If you like the sound of The Luxury of Self-Care, you may enjoy this episode where host Ahnastasia interviews yours truly about one of my favorite topics: every bit counts.