Dr. Katrina Traikov ND

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The Power of Gratitude

What simple daily practice can offer you health, happiness, stronger relationships, and an increased feeling of satisfaction with your life? You guessed it – Gratitude. 

Best of all, the practice of gratitude can be quick, easy, and free! In this article, we’ll focus on what gratitude is and isn’t as well as the social, physical, and mental-emotional benefits that have been linked with the practice of gratitude. As well, we’ll give you some tips to help you make gratitude a habit.

What’s Gratitude?

Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation. The practice of gratitude involves spending a little time each day consciously remembering, talking about, or writing down what you’re grateful for and why; and taking the time to actually feel gratitude.

Though some might think of gratitude as a virtue; I like to think of it as a skill that can be learned and practiced by anyone. It’s about training your brain to notice the positive rather than consistently focusing on the hassles, irritations, or annoyances of everyday life.

Gratitude isn’t about pretending that everything’s great when it’s not

Feeling gratitude doesn’t mean that you need to put up with an unhealthy relationship or pretend that everything’s great when it isn’t. It’s also not about being a doormat. Anger at injustice, for example, can move people to action, and motivate them to fight for change.

Gratitude is simply about spending a little time each day feeling grateful for something that you actually feel grateful for, and making this a habit – whether for 2-3 weeks or a lifetime. Think of it as something you do for yourself. It should genuinely feel good.

The Social Benefits of Gratitude

Socially, gratitude has been linked with helping us cultivate and maintain relationships. For example, in one study, friends and family members of people who practiced gratitude reported them as more enjoyable to be around.

Gratitude has also been linked with “prosocial behaviour” – any action we undertake to help others regardless of our motivation. We can imagine that if we reach out to help others, this might help us in cultivating and maintaining relationships.

Gratitude has also been linked to increased self-esteem, and less social comparison; as well as an ability to appreciate other people’s accomplishments instead of becoming jealous, envious, resentful or feeling badly about ourselves or our situation.

Gratitude has also been linked with an increased capacity for empathy and forgiveness, and a decreased desire for retaliation or revenge.

Gratitude has also been linked with feeling more positively about your spouse or partner, and feeling more comfortable communicating openly or expressing concerns about your relationship with them. We can imagine that this might generalize to other relationships as well.

The Physical Benefits of Gratitude

Physically, gratitude has been linked with people reporting that they sleep longer and wake feeling more rested, feel less aches and pains, have improved energy levels, have less stress-related illness, and even have lower blood pressure!  Gratitude is also linked with positive health behaviours like exercise and regular medical check-ups. Gratitude has also been linked with less hostility. By the way, hostility has been linked with heart disease!

The Mental-Emotional Benefits of Gratitude

Gratitude has been linked with reduced stress, and increased resilience – our ability to adapt and continue striving for our goals in times of stress, challenge, or misfortune. It has been linked with increased feelings of happiness, optimism, and reduced feelings of depression or anxiety, as well as lower rates of PTSD and an increased ability to recover from trauma.

Simple Ways To Make Gratitude Part of Your Daily Routine

Gratitude is a skill that can be learned and practiced by anyone. For me, the key to producing feelings of gratitude more regularly was: learning what gratitude feels like in my body; training my brain to notice things I actually feel grateful for on a regular basis by making gratitude a habit; and learning to take a moment to feel and enjoy the feeling of gratitude when I notice something I feel grateful for.

Feeling Gratitude

I find it most helpful to start by thinking of something that reliably produces a feeling of gratitude without any negative associations. This way, you’ll gradually learn what gratitude fells like in your body. The next step is to compare that feeling to what you feel when you think of something you might also be grateful for. See if it feels the same.

To feel gratitude. you might bring up a memory: of a person in your life who has supported you or loved you unconditionally, and think of the ways they helped shape the person you’ve become today; a place where you felt safe, healthy, happy, loved or at peace and how grateful you were for that place; the love and companionship of a pet; or even a simple sensation like the sun shining on your face. Pay attention to how gratitude feels in your body so you can learn to recognize it on a regular basis.

Making Gratitude a habit

Making a daily habit of gratitude can be a great way to start training your brain to notice other things you might be grateful for so that you get to experience the feeling of gratitude, and its benefits, more often.

A simple way to start making a habit of gratitude might be keeping a notepad on your bedside table and writing down three things that you truly feel grateful for at the end of each day. You might also brainstorm with a friend or loved one about things to be grateful for, or put up pictures that represent what you’re grateful for.

Get Detailed!

It can be easy to nonchalantly rattle off a list of all the things you think you should be grateful for, but this can be a waste of time and energy! The idea is to create the feeling of gratitude for yourself so you can experience it fully.  One way to do this might be to write down something or someone you’re grateful for and then write out five specific reasons why; taking the time to meaningfully feel gratitude for each.

Play with Perspective

Sometimes playing with shifting your perspective of a situation can be helpful when you’re exploring gratitude. There are a number of ways to do this such as: seeing the bigger picture, stepping into another person’s shoes, finding a lesson, or looking for meaning or purpose in what’s happened. The key is to find an approach that works for you. So, if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.
Remember, the key is to find ways that help you meaningfully feel gratitude on a regular basis.

What does gratitude feel like for you?

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