A Better Life Through Gratitude

One of my favorite habits is expressing gratitude. There are so many things in life to be grateful for - waking up in the morning next to a loved one, taking a hot shower, a deliciously brewed cup of coffee, the sun rising on a morning commute, getting to your destination safely. All this before even clocking in at work. Not too shabby.


It’s far too often that we overlook the small blessings in life. Those tiny miracles that take place throughout the day that may go missed if we don’t work to presence ourselves to their existence. But when we do, we begin to realize that these blessings are all around us.




Activate your Gratitude Radar


When I take a moment each day to focus on life’s gifts, both big and small, I notice a subtle, yet impactful shift in my way of thinking throughout the day. I find myself being a bit more appreciative of the people and things around me without intentionally trying to do so. It’s as if a “positivity” switch is turned on in my brain. A radar is activated which automatically starts to identify the niceties of life. A type of neural re-networking takes place where I begin to focus on the positives; inevitably overwhelming and drowning out many of the negatives.


Thanking in Threes


So, how do I do this? As part of my morning routine, I’ve developed a habit where I write down three things that I’m grateful for. If I forget to journal, or simply run out of time in the morning, I incorporate this habit into my morning commute. I also try to revisit this habit when I find myself perseverating on the negatives during a difficult day in an attempt to disrupt this maladaptive behavior.



Now you could be thinking, "This all sounds great in theory, but is there any research to back this up?" Yep, sure is. Let’s take a look.


Gratitude Research


A study out of UC Davis separated participants into 3 groups, those focusing on daily blessings vs. those focusing on daily burdens vs. a “life events based” group that served as a type of control for the study.


192 participants were enrolled in total and the groups were instructed to record 5 things they were grateful for, 5 things they found to be burdensome, and 5 “life events” that may have affected them in a positive or negative manner throughout the week depending on their group designation. Each group filled out their respective form on a weekly basis in addition to a questionnaire which evaluated the overall mood of the participants, their reactions to social support received, their amount of time spent exercising, and a global life appraisal over a 9 week period.


The results were striking. Participants in the gratitude group rated their life more favorably. They experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness, exercised nearly 1.5 hours more each week and felt better about their life as a whole. Interestingly enough, they were also more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or to have offered emotional support to a friend or stranger. [1]


Not only does expressing gratitude help us to feel better, but it appears to make us more fit, and more apt to have a positive effect on others. Let’s start developing our gratitude habit so we can live better lives, improve our level of fitness so we can rock those peaches on the beaches, and positively impact those around us.



How about you? What are you grateful for today? Any tips for expressing gratitude on a daily basis?


References:


  1. McCullough, M. E., & Emmons, R. A. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.

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