In a world that inundates us with bad news and angry vibes, maybe it should be. Whether you keep a daily gratitude journal or reflect on all you have over your morning coffee, gratitude can have tangible physical and emotional benefits.
Here are three ways that being mindful of all you have can improve your Return on Life and even inspire you to spread that gratitude to your loved ones and your wider community.
Positive psychology is an emerging field of theories and research that studies psychological states and social institutions that enhance our sense of well-being. Many researchers have found a link between expressing gratitude and how we feel about ourselves and our lives.
In one study published by the American Psychological Association, two psychologists asked a group of participants to write a few sentences about things that had happened to them during their week that they were grateful for. A second group was asked to write about things that had irritated them. And a third was asked to write about anything that had affected them, positive or negative. After 10 weeks, the group that wrote about gratitude felt more optimistic about their lives. They also exercised more and went to the doctor less than participants who had written about negative experiences.
We all have that voice in our head that whispers our doubts, worries, grievances, and mistakes. Try to replace that voice with one that’s kinder, gentler, more forgiving, and more mindful of the good things in your life. Deep breathing, meditation, and even just looking at yourself in the mirror and saying something positive can help you refocus and approach the rest of your day from a happier place.
That extra motivation to get off the couch and exercise is just one potential health benefit of gratitude. According to the Mayo Clinic, expressing gratitude has been linked to decreased depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California – Davis and the author of the book “Gratitude Works!” found that health-care practitioners who kept a gratitude diary for two weeks sustained reductions in perceived stress and depression. He also found that grateful people have lower blood pressure and experience less degeneration of brain functions as they age. People even tend to reduce their daily fat intake when gratitude is part of their routine.
Gratitude can also make exercise itself more meaningful. For example, many yoga instructors include a gratitude element in their classes as a way to help students appreciate their commitment to self-improvement and be more present in what they’re doing. The gratitude we feel towards coaches, teammates, and gym buddies can also help us to build better health habits and push ourselves towards even higher goals.
A study by the University of Birmingham, Edgbaston’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues found that the values of gratitude and compassion mutually reinforce each other. When we appreciate the things that we have, we’re more sensitive to what those around us don’t have. That feeling can lead us to some of the most fulfilling uses of our resources, such as making sustained charitable donations and volunteering.
Showing gratitude towards loved ones can also improve the most important relationships in our lives. Just saying “Thank you” to your spouse more often can have a profound effect on how both of you feel towards each other. Spread that appreciation to the rest of your friends and family and you’ll be strengthening bonds that will make life more fulfilling for decades to come.
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