Giving thanks– it’s more than a nice gesture or a fleeting thought. It is an intentional experience that can transform not only your physical health, but also your mental health.
Research shows that expressions of gratitude, particularly if practiced regularly, can keep us healthier and happier. The findings are actually quite profound: lower stress, less inflammation in the body, stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, improved heart health, better sleep, more motivation to exercise, better metabolism. More positive emotions, increased ability to relish good experiences, better able to deal with adversity, stronger relationships, lower anxiety and depression.
Sounds pretty good right?
Here’s the key to getting the maximum benefits– you actually have to find ways to regularly EXPRESS gratitude for it to have an effect. Most of us feel a general sense of gratitude, but actually savoring the present moment and then showing our appreciation is where we might be falling short.
It’s important to know a little about how our brains work so we understand why a regular practice of gratitude is effective. In the brain, neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that to learn something new, to set a new habit in place, repetition is required. When you practice something deeply, intentionally, and regularly, a neural pathway is formed. Neurons are now firing together in a new sequence, and thus are wiring together as a collective. Newly created and repeatedly firing neural pathways become insulated and strengthened by the grey and white matter of the brain, and then are optimized for speed and efficiency. The key here is that they become a default behavior, since the brain will choose the most used and most efficient pathways.
Since the brain influences and controls every aspect of our physical and mental health, it’s essential that we get those gratitude neural pathways firing together, wiring together, and as high speed and efficient as possible so we can actually experience the benefits of gratitude.
So what gets in our way the most often? Busyness. Plain and simple. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of the day and neglect to make space for this vital mental and physical hygiene practice.
That’s why Luminary has streamlined the process for you! Here are the top three ways I’ve learned to work a practice of gratitude expression into my life. Try to incorporate at least one of these three methods in daily- it’s nice to have options so your gratitude practice stays fresh and authentic to you.
1) Start a gratitude journal
Of all the studies done on gratitude, the number one method tested included a simple documentation of the things we are grateful for in any given day or week. This doesn’t have to be lengthy or complicated! Simply find a journal or notebook you want to dedicate to your gratitude practice and leave it on your bedside table or near where you drink your morning coffee. Spend a few minutes either at the beginning or end of your day to….. stop, slow down, breathe, and reflect. Jot down 3-5 things you’re grateful for in the moment. Let yourself feel the weight of each one’s significance to you as you write. This can be an especially powerful way to shift your perspective and open up to the good that’s available to us in the present.
2) Savor moments of beauty
Do something simple, such as stop and notice an instance of natural beauty– like a sunrise, the perfection of a single flower bud, the sound of a bird singing, a child playing, the way sunlight reflects on a body of water, the flavor of your morning cup o’ joe. Let appreciation for the simple and ordinary beauty around you to matter. Let beauty fill you up and fuel you forward. I enjoy this practice when I find myself in transition- during my commute to work, looking out the window while waiting for my next appointment, walking around my office neighborhood on my lunch hour. These are all small, private moments, but consciously trying to find beauty to savor sort of becomes exponentially transformative. Once you start paying attention, you’ll find it everywhere.
3) Express heartfelt, honest appreciation toward someone else
This is a practice that has two benefits: you get the daily dose of the powerful medicine expressing gratitude offers your body and mind, while also strengthening your relationships with the people around you. Have fun picking a friend, coworker, family member, neighbor, or small business owner to connect with. The thank you will have more power if you create a pause in the busyness of the daily grind to pull someone aside, look them in the eye, give them your warmest smile, and sincerely thank them for something simple they’ve done or for who they are in your life. You’ll make their day (and maybe yours too).
The purpose of a gratitude practice is not to block out negative emotions or to pretend that challenge and difficulty don’t exist. We’re all adults here! A gratitude practice helps us expand our ability to hold complex and even seemingly contradicting emotions and experiences simultaneously. It allows sadness and joy to hold hands. Fear and determination to walk forward together. Hurt and compassion to coexist.
Gratitude doesn’t deny the darkness, but lights the path through it. It keeps our hearts wide open to experience all the beauty and abundance this experience of living has to offer. And keeps our bodies and minds healthier.
What are 3 things you’re grateful for today? We want to hear about it! Let us know in the comments section below.
PS: Here’s a great resource to guide your friends and family toward expressed gratitude this Thanksgiving– it’s a free, simple and easy way to add even more community, love, and magic to your holiday: http://www.thethanksgivingreader.com/
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