How Practicing Gratitude can improve our Emotional Health
How many times have you heard this expression, why can’t you be more grateful? You most likely heard this remark from your parents, grandparents or perhaps you have even uttered these words to a child yourself. (Or even worse, a partner!) Our need to see gratitude in others is a huge part of us, and seeing that person also as a loving and caring person.
Practicing gratitude is an effective stress management tool. It is something that is easily achieved and a beneficial emotion. In a 1995 study, the American Journal of Cardiology showed that appreciation and positive emotions are linked with changes in the heart rate, which may be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension to help lower blood pressure. It is also noted that gratitude can help in preventing death with patients that had congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.
Practicing Gratitude By Saying Thank You
When you practice a grateful attitude, you will gain a sense of control and understanding. Gratitude is free and has no bad side effects. In fact, gratitude practice can help you to feel better, and it will also affect the people around you. If you are feeling happiness and gratitude, which are positive emotions, the people you meet will also feel its effects. Being positive is contagious and can cause a positive rippling effect.
There are many gratitude benefits, yet it is sometimes difficult to be grateful during times of stress or when feeling sad, disappointed, or suffering from a loss. You may even find yourself caught up in this vicious cycle of, “if only.” For example, if only I could lose ten pounds, then I will be grateful, if only the job came through then I can say thank you. It can become this repetitive cycle of if only, and once you completed that, then you can be grateful.
The problem is, when the “if only” happens, you may continue to move on to the next thing you want without stopping to say thank you. Or you focus so much on that “hopeful if only,” you forget to recognize all the other things in your present life to be thankful for.
There is much you can be grateful for, you just need to start focusing on those things. When you do, it can be an effective tool to use when you are feeling stressed and anxious. It will help you improve on negative emotions and feel happier.
So, let’s begin with the basics, by learning to become more mindful of your body, the way you breathe, as you practice positive emotions daily.
How to Practice Gratitude?
Long hair brunette girl on the top of the mountain enjoying the fresh air. Breathing.
Sit quietly. Take a deep breath through your nose and let it fill your lungs completely. Breathe until you cannot fill yourself anymore. Now hold it in. As you are doing this breathing exercise become mindful of the here and now. You are present in this beautiful life that God has given you. Feel the sensation as it fills your body. Does it feel slightly uncomfortable, as if you are about to burst? Then let the air out. Let it rush out, then push the last amount out completely until there is nothing left.
Your mind in calm and body is now relaxed. Think for a moment, breathing obviously gives you oxygen, your chief nutrient for your body. Without it you cannot survive. It reminds you that you are alive! That alone is truly something to be thankful for.
The Gift of Being Able to Breathe
How did it feel when you were finally allowed to release the air? Good? Like a release? If you are struggling to find anything to be grateful for at all, start with your breath. The drive to survive is far stronger than anything else. Your world may be crashing down around you, with creditors calling, relationships failing, and stress overload. But if you have breath, if you are alive, you are at a point where you can overturn all of that and start again.
So, what happens after you Breathe? Then What?
Gratitude can change your life immensely. But first, you need to look at where you are right now. In fact, you possibly need to do a little soul searching and be true to thyself.
At times you may not be totally honest about the parts of your life you don’t feel grateful for. You may want to be thankful, but don’t want to admit that you are not. So take a moment and look inside your life over a range of areas.
Create a list of things you are Grateful
and not grateful for
Make a list of the things you struggle to be grateful for and the things you already are thankful for. Don’t worry if the complaints are longer, you will sort that out soon!
Think about the following and come up with one main thing you are not thankful for about it (if there is one), and one main thing you ARE thankful for (if you can).
Perhaps these ideas can help you start your own Gratitude List or Journal.
Make a list of the people, events, circumstances, and things you most feel grateful for. Your list should include things that you genuinely appreciate. Below is a list of ideas that can help put together a gratitude list.
I am truly grateful for_____________________________.
List your favorite things:
Favorite food, activities, vacation, books, pets, etc. It can be an event or people you spend time with. It can be as short or as long as you like.
Your finances: Do you feel you have enough? Do you think it’s managed well? Do you feel a lack of money is affecting other areas?
Your work life: Do you enjoy your job? What parts do you like? Where is it taking you? Is there any part of you that is still wanting more from your job? In what way?
Your love life or social life: Do you feel fulfilled and happy in this area? Do you feel loved and accepted for who you are? Have you got, great friends? Your goals Do you have goals? Do you have a sense of where you are headed, and do you know how to get there? Do you feel your goals are realistic for what you want to do and where you want to be?
Your physical life: Are you comfortable in your body? What parts are working well? What isn’t doing so well? Are you filled with energy? Do you enjoy the foods you are eating?
Your home life and possessions: Do you feel you have enough? Or do you think you need more? Do you like the things you own? Have you got your favorite items that you treasure? What do you really long for? Is there anything?
How to Lighten the burden of things
you struggle to be grateful for
Hopefully, these questions allowed you to look deep into your life and it has helped you to discover many things. Perhaps, your complaint list looks a bit long, but this list can look a lot lighter. How is that possible? Well, it’s quite simple really.
When you change the way you think, and start to fill your life with thankfulness, nothing else is the same. You start to change your life forever, and they DO get better. Go ahead and try the breathing exercise again. Do it several times in a row, taking in slow breaths then releasing it slowly with that pause in the middle. Try it with your eyes closed and let it still you. Now while you are aware of your body and your breathing, try to remember that person, place or thing, or circumstance that you are grateful for.
When you practice your breathing focus on something that generates positive emotions. If you start thinking about other things, bring your focus back to the present. Focus on gratitude, then later you can go do the other things. If you do this gratitude exercise it will help you to accomplish the other daily tasks even better because you will be calmer and less stressed.
How exactly does practicing gratitude help?
Well, let’s take a look: It helps you in social engagement. I wonder what has happened to our manners lately. These days, a please and thank you go further than ever before, simply because no one else is using them! It’s true and fairly sad in many ways.
If you are a parent one of the most powerful things you can do is teach your children to use manners. And it’s not only the words – it’s the voice behind them. Parents often will tell a child to say it as they mean it. We as adults are no different. Use manners, and your world begins to open up socially.
People watch us all the time as we engage with others. Gratitude is a way of showing respect to other people. Think about the last time someone said thank you to you and you knew they meant it. It does something quite magical to your relationship with them. It makes you look at them in a different manner. Gratitude goes a long way!
Practicing Gratitude Honors What People Do For You
Someone who honors what you’ve given them or some work you’ve done. If they thank you for it, the first reaction is often to want to give them more. Because you know that what you give them will be rewarded again- or at least you hope it will be! If you start thanking people around you for doing their job, for being kind, for giving you something when they don’t have to, then it makes everything run smoother.
A Smile is an Easy Way to Show Gratitude
People gravitate towards people they think are going to reward them for their actions. A smile goes a big way too. Smiling is an easy way to say thanks. If it’s all you can manage, try a smile on a stranger today. They are likely to pass it right on to someone else. It’s a bit of a coarse way of thinking about it, but if you really can’t think of any reason you should be grateful for people who are just doing what they are supposed to do, think of it as if you are just greasing the wheels.
What that means is think about how easier it gets when you just give people a few of your thanks. Sure, they may only be doing their job, but it’s far better than all those people who aren’t quite doing even that right? Smile and thank people for the work they do, for any small kindness that comes your way and see how effective it is.
Show Gratitude for the Good Things in Life
Once you make thanking people for a habit, it is time to be grateful for the good things in your life. This can be a difficult task especially when you are under a lot of stress and life is tough. However, there are many things around you, that may be taken for granted, and you have no idea of the positive impact those things have on you.
I guess it’s human nature not to realize the worth of what we have until we don’t have it anymore. For instance, when you have children, you are aware of the sense of wanting your child to be asleep just so you can get something done without them interrupting you, then when they are asleep, wanting them to wake up so you can hold them, touch them and play with them again.
I remember when my children were small, and I came home from work, made dinner and made sure they ate, helped them to do homework, gave them a bath, and tuck them in bed. I now have one that is an adult and working, while the other two are teens getting ready to go to college. At times, I wish they were small again, so I can relive those special moments that are long gone. Perhaps, I was too tired at the time to realize that it was a special time. Nonetheless, I am happy for the experience and more enriched by it. Maybe you have similar memories, of good old times with your friends and family. As you look at the valuable experiences, whether they are from the past or in the present, remember that you blessed and hopefully thankful.
So, go ahead and think back to a time in your life when someone did something for you, or an experience you had that you have forgotten. Maybe you forgot what it’s like to live in your own place, without having your parents around to check what time you get home, or what it feels like to be able to drive somewhere, or go get a takeaway instead of cook…
There are just so many little freedoms that we all have taken for granted. To find things to be grateful for. Take stock of where you sit right now….
LOOK Take a look around the room. Can you see things? Acknowledge your ability to see. Be grateful for it. Look at the colors around you, how you can distinguish them from each other. This is something to also be grateful for.
Think about the things you own. Are they the only clothes you own- the ones you have on now? Allow yourself to feel gratitude for being clothed.
Are you in a place where you are sheltered from the sun or the rain or the wind? Allow yourself to feel gratitude for this. Do you have any money on you at all? Be thankful even if it is merely a few coins. These are all small points of gratitude. This isn’t about trying to find large big things to be thankful for, but together a little gratitude over a range of different things starts to add up.
Why Bother to Show Gratitude for the Good Things
So why bother doing this? If you make this part of your everyday habits, along with getting dressed, eating, drinking and all those other important tasks then you start to focus on only what is positive and good. Doing this doesn’t make the bad parts of our lives magically disappear but it does give us the strength to cope with those aspects. If you are generally optimistic by nature, this can be enough to boost your optimism and keep you from stress. If you are naturally pessimistic, then this can help you move out of negative thinking and into something more uplifting.
It’s so hard to be happy if we can’t find anything to be happy about. But spending time being grateful every day helps us to naturally become happier. It makes our happy state less up and down and far more stable.
Gratitude Improves Your State of Mind
This improved state of thinking provides many benefits from increased confidence to decreased ill health to increase our enjoyment levels across the board in a range of different situations.
The key is to do this enough that it slips into your subconsciousness. It’s said that around ninety percent of our behavior stems from our subconscious self. How powerful is it then when we begin to act out of gratitude rather than defensiveness or negativity? It also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we become happier, we naturally gravitate to things, people and situations that make us happier. In doing so, we begin to create a life that is all we desire and more. It’s the true power of being filled with gratitude.
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Is Gratitude is Good for Your Body?
So, practicing gratitude so far, has made people around you happier, has improved your state of mind because it is getting the message about being grateful, now what about your body?
What does being grateful do to your body?
When you have a positive attitude towards health, it means you feel better about your physical self. You make better food choices, eat for hunger and not to stave off sad or complicated emotions and you enjoy making your body move. A happy body is a healthy one.
If your body isn’t what it “should” be right now, or rather, if your body isn’t what you want it to be right now, instead of focusing on the flabby parts, or the parts that may not function as they use too, focus on the parts that do work well. One of the fascinating things about people who suffer from some sort of impairment is their body makes up for it in some other way. For instance, a blind person often has a highly developed sense of smell or incredible hearing. That is our body’s way of being thankful for what does work. It compensates and provides an enhanced talent at the cost of the one the person doesn’t have. We all have that ability. I know there are probably things you may not like about your body, but what can you mention that you do like. Some of the time, you are impacted by the families’ negative comments, but they don’t need to. If you have a chronic illness, focus on the healthy parts of your body. This can be difficult, but many studies have been done on the power of imagery that involves your healthy body fighting the ill health intruder. Spend time focusing more on the healthy parts of your body.
If you feel absolutely terrible, and there is nothing you can find to feel good, go back and focus on your breath. Even if it is labored. Even if you need to do it slowly, breathe in and out and focus on your breath. Focus on how you are alive with each breath you take in and out. Remember you are worthy and there is a place in this world for you to make a difference. You can impact the world in a positive way that is also fulfilling and rewarding to you. It isn’t easy. Our physical feelings can often outweigh everything else. We often neglect how our body feels and then we stop looking after it. It becomes a vicious cycle. But to begin to be grateful for our health can liberate us from ill-health. Try this Exercise. Spend five minutes a day focused on what is right with your body. If you have severe body issues, or health issues, consider trying some (EFT) or Emotional Freedom Techniques. It is also known as tapping and it is used to help you overcome negative emotions, negative beliefs and negative thoughts, as it breaks this cycle and gives you a kick start into positive feelings and gratitude.
Remember, no matter where you are or how you are feeling, you can love and accept yourself just as you are today.
The Law of Gratitude Creates a Positive Energy
There are those that were raised in a home where faith and spirituality are a part of their culture and a lifestyle to be thankful and grateful. Maybe you were raised to give thanks before eating or to say thank you to your God before bedtime. Many believe that doing something like this, is like sending positive energy into the universe. The universal concepts are that we all need to be filled with gratitude in part because it is part of what makes the world go around. On the metaphysical level, this is referred to as the Law of Gratitude. This means that the universe or the essence of life around us reacts to the thankfulness and it creates energy around us that impacts us and the people around us. As you are grateful, the universe responds by giving you what you are grateful for. This is the basic precept in the Law of Attraction that says the things you focus on are the things you attract more of into your life. The things you hold dear are the things you put your energy behind. The more energy we have around something, the more energy it attracts. It’s basic physics. So the things you may be grateful for- your friendships, your work, your health, your loved ones, grow and respond to that gratefulness the more and more grateful you are. There is a proverb that says “Out of the heart the mouth speaks” Take a look at what you say and do. The person with a lot of gratitude in their heart speaks, gravitates and attracts people around them that do the same. I believe that an army of positive people can impact the world in a very good way. Don’t you think?
So we focused on the good parts of our life, but what about the bad things that happen? Should we be grateful for them as well? Well yes, if possible. Being grateful for bad things that happen to you isn’t saying that what happened should have happened. It’s not about lying down like a doormat; ready for the next punch life might throw at you. Being grateful for the bad things that happen is more about learning to live with the life you’ve had, and seeing the good that can spring from anything. If you look at people who are successful, often they have a tale of woe of how they struggled, were hurt, abused or injured. But somehow they rose above that and kept ongoing. The key to this and to their success was to not see their situation as something that broke them, but as something that made them. Something they can turn around and make it into a positive.
Having Gratitude in Tough Times Shapes Who you Are
Sometimes when we are faced with some kind of struggle, the best thing to do is to learn to let go. Remember the expression “Let go and Let God, well that is what we need. Let go of the pain and be grateful in order to recuperate, regroup and survive.
You can have two people in life experience exactly the same turn of unfortunate events and manage it completely differently. The person who uses gratitude that they are still alive, still surviving, still fighting, and has learned from the lessons life has thrown upon them either at their own hand or at the hand of others is the one who is going to be positively affected by having gratitude in their life.
There are many unfortunate events that can occur in your life. Sometimes they help you to learn more about yourself, and it can change your behavior in a positive way. Most importantly, it can make you look at life completely different and then you may realize that every day is a gift, that should not be taken for granted. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher and the poet once said “What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger” While that is often true, it only works if you choose the path of love and forgiveness.
Being able to forgive someone for any wrongs done to you isn’t so much about whether what they did was right or wrong, or even if they ever appreciate that you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is about what happens to your own heart during the process. As you forgive for the horrible parts of your life- forgiving a person, an object, a situation, the universe, yourself, you let go of the negative power that has over you and you can start to be thankful for the person you are now from that experience or event.
It can be tempting to live in the life of what could have been. However, this just leads to a stronger sense of loss and hurt and it’s very difficult to move on from. If instead, you focus on how it’s shaped you and given you a different perspective others may never get to see, then you start to take on a more positive slant. When bad things happen to us we all need recovery time. We need to look after ourselves and be gentle on our tender parts. But we can also look at the scars we carry and see them as little reminders of how we have survived. Battle worn some of us may be, but how awesome to have made it through to the other side with the help of grace and gratitude.
Gratitude Makes you Stronger During Tough Times
If it just sounds too weird to relate to, think about what our body needs to do to become stronger and more resilient. If you want to build muscles, any form of resistance helps. The heavier the weight, the harder your muscles have to work to build up. We use weights to fight against your muscles, to grow them. The muscles actually tear a little as we work them; stretch and then rebuild, connecting more fibers. The muscle growth doesn’t happen during the session, but afterward when we rest up and let our muscles mend. To build muscles best you need to work them so they tear a little, feed them to give them the power they need and rest them up. The resting and feeding are just as important as the workout. So how does this compute with gratitude? Well if you want to make the most of any traumatic situation, where you’ve felt your heart and mind tear a little, (or worse) then you rest up from it, and you allow it to heal and you add in some gratitude that you made it through it.
This is how we become stronger. Being grateful that you’ve made it through doesn’t mean that you are giving that experience power or importance. In fact, it’s giving them the power to yourself because you are saying that you beat it. It didn’t beat you. And that feels good. Learning from our experiences, and our past unwise decisions are about being grateful that you don’t need to repeat the lesson again. You learn to read situations that others may miss, you can see things as they are, not as people try to portray them, and you change the way you see the world. If you are reading this, and you’ve recently gone through something awful, then this may be the very last thing you want to hear. Everyone needs a bit of wound licking time. But it’s something that is good to keep in mind.
This is about not letting our life’s experiences control us in a negative manner. It’s about finding a reason somewhere in all the horribleness to find a gem of gratefulness and let go of the pain. Sometimes we just can’t see the bigger picture. When we are in the midst of trials and horrible experiences we often feel “What on earth that is good come from this situation.” It feels like a hopeless case. We wonder why we’ve got the feeling we do, know the people we spend time with, why doors aren’t opening. It’s often only with the benefit of hindsight when we can look back and see how those times were the very ones that shaped us that we can see it was all worth it in the end. Often the very things we long for and want are not in the shape we expect. To get to those things we often have to go on a journey that we don’t expect and experience things we weren’t prepared for. Yet all the good and the bad shapes us into the individuals we are today. With gratitude, we grow stronger through adversity, more appreciative of the special moments of our lives. For all this, we should be thankful.