What are you grateful for?
No, I'm not trying to bring to mind your most recent family Thanksgiving dinner, the one where you dodged Uncle Bob and Aunt Rita's inquisition as to your school/ work/ relationship status! Rather, I'm trying to get you to stop, think, and reflect on your perception of life, and an incredibly important part of our good health: Gratitude.
While many of us may be thankful for that once-a-year holiday, being grateful is really a mindset that can have powerful health effects when incorporated into your everyday life.
You don't just need a table full of relatives and a turkey to feel grateful... and perhaps you'd be more grateful if you didn't!
Gratitude is a feeling that occurs when one acknowledges receiving a valuable benefit from another and is typically associated with the perception that this benefit was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but was rather because of the good intentions of others [Emmons].
It might not be the first thing you think of when trying to be healthier, but when you experience and/or express gratitude, it can lead to more positivity, life satisfaction and overall well-being.
Finding gratitude and having a positive perspective not only aids in times of stress and helps prevent future difficulties but can also lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation. Gratitude also reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders [Emmons].
Similarly, expressing gratitude has also been linked to greater optimism, higher energy, and fewer reported physical symptoms due to the ability to savor positive experiences, people, and things [Owens].
Whether it's Thanksgiving day, or one of the other 364 days of the year, gratitude is a prescription for wellness. Here are my eight tips to foster and display more personal gratitude in your life; they take less than 10 minutes a day, and will actually save you time, but more importantly energy, which I know you'll be grateful for!
1. Build a Routine
Showing gratitude at the end of your day is my favourite ritual. It gives me permission to reflect on my day and really identify how grateful I am. Each day that I practice showing gratitude I find more and more reasons to love life.
My colleague has a bedtime routine with her three year old and it includes recognizing what you are grateful for. When this part of the night comes, you can't shut him up. There are so many things that we take for granted and when you listen to the long list that a child can come up with you realize the possibilities for gratefulness are limitless!
Take a couple minutes each day to stop and reflect; taking regular pause is an excellent way to bring about more feelings of gratefulness in your life.
2. Show it with Actions
A hug and a smile can be a nonverbal way of showing gratitude. They can also communicate many messages. If someone looks like they are having a tough day, a smile can relate empathy and encouragement. If you haven't seen someone in a year, a hug can describe the excitement and how meaningful the relationship is.
3. Use Your Words
Please, thank you, and you're welcome are loaded words. It's easy to say them in passing, but it can relay so much more when you combine it with eye contact, meaning and genuine acknowledgement.
The next time your arms are full and someone holds the elevator doors for you, don't just glance over your shoulder and say "thanks". Turn around, look them in their eyes and mean it; it's the act of generosity that's important.
And what about those times when someone does something to piss you off? It might be time to flex your gratitude muscle. I always say, "It's easy to be mindful when all is going well, but the true test is when you're struggling. Will you let your buttons be pushed, or are you in control of your thoughts, feelings and actions?" <-- TWEET THIS
4. Gratitude Journaling
Writing first thing in the morning starts your day off in a positive state of mind and maintaining optimism for whatever the day brings. Writing at night is a great reminder to feel blessed and be thankful for every day.
My favourite journal is the "Five Minute Journal" by my friends UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn. It's a beautiful and simple book that is an incredible tool to cultivate gratitude. It's one of those products that you say, "Why didn't I think of that?".
5. Slow Down Your Pace and Look Around
Start walking to work, the grocery store, and the gym. Or just go for a walk in your neighborhood and take in the sights. There are so many ways to get from Point A to B and there's even more things to see along the way. Life is not a race. Take your time. Slow your pace. Look around you.
6. Eat Mindfully
Breath, bite, chew, swallow, pause.
Before starting any meal, practice taking 3 slow deep breaths. As you eat, be mindful of where your food has come from and the time and labour that has gone into your meal. Far too often we disassociate from the foods we eat. The steak you just inhaled was once a cow on a farmer's field and even fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains have an origin story that should be respected.
7. Sit Still
"You don't need to be in a deep meditation, just observant." <-- Click-to-Tweet.
Listen to the wind, feel the sun on your skin, breath in the scent of the nearby garden, pay attention to the earth beneath you.
When you sit and are still you aren't doing "nothing". In fact, you are acknowledging the world around you and your own presence. You are in the moment. Void of your past and future. Void of your responsibilities, stresses and challenges. You are just here, now. That's all. It's the most freeing feeling of all to leave everything behind and be present.
8. Limit The Negative News
While you don't need to be ignorant to global and local events, it can be worthwhile to limit the amount of social media you use daily. Most cover stories are meant to shock, terrify and sweep you into a whirlwind of emotions. They don't always feature the truth.
Focus more on positive events. Maybe you volunteer with a group or help out at your child's fundraiser.
In life there always seems to be more to want, have and be, however making sure to be grateful for those things in life that truly matter is not only good for your health but also the health of humanity. Thanksgiving day is a great reminder to sit back and take stock of all that we have to be grateful for, but don't leave your gratitude with the dirty dishes and leftovers.
A prescription for daily gratitude is an important facet of healthy living, easy to do, and incredibly worthwhile.
Thanks for reading, I'm so grateful you did!
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