This time of year, we can fall prey to “gratitude fatigue.” All this talk about giving thanks for what we have can make it a bit surfacy. However, it’s the regular habit of gratitude that has the potential for truly activating our well-being. A simple shift toward gratitude in our daily lives all year long yields truly amazing benefits.
- Enhancing mood
- Deepening ability to connect with others
- Feeling happier and more content
- Reducing inflammation in the body
- Boosting immune system
- Decreasing rates of cancer and heart disease
- Reducing stress response
- Lowering blood pressure
- Normalizing blood sugar
- Improving tendency to take better care of oneself
- More likely to choose to exercise
- More likely to choose to eat healthier
- Reducing pain levels
An interesting point is researchers found a difference between gratitude and feeling more fortunate than others. When we focus on what we may have compared to those less fortunate, the benefits are not there. Actual gratitude for our own lives, our own experiences, rather than in comparison to others, is what creates the healthy shift in mind and body.
It is tempting to think of giving thanks as Pollyannaish – just focusing on the good and ignoring the bad. True gratitude is most powerful when born of the tough times.
Our national holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving, was born and grew out of hard times. The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression.
Just like other healthy habits such as exercise and meditation, a daily practice of gratitude primes the brain to find the good and strengthens resilience in tough times.
Activate it: choose a gratitude practice and make it a regular habit. Here are some ideas to consider.
- Gratitude journal: Record three things you felt grateful for at the end of each day. This habit keeps you on the look out for the good stuff in each day so you have something to write. Not much of a journal keeper? Here is an app for that!
- Appreciation list: The habit of gratitude and appreciation for ourselves is fundamental to lasting behavior change. It is all too easy to focus on what we didn’t do well. Acknowledging what we did well – overcoming a nagging barrier, making a healthy choice in the face of temptation, choosing to stay calm – boosts confidence in sustaining healthy choices through the challenging times. The power is in the habit of documenting what you appreciate about your efforts each day.
- Thank you card day: Dedicate one day of the week to write a thank you letter to someone. Just a short note of appreciation – a store clerk or a close relative – whatever inspires your appreciation that week.
With much gratitude,
May you be well,
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC