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Cultivating Gratitude: Upgrading Our Wellbeing with Appreciation
All month long, we’ve been exploring the many ways we can invite more mindfulness into our daily lives. First, we explored mindful eating, then we celebrated all things mother with our Mindful Mother’s Day post. Last week we learned about how meditation is the ultimate mindfulness tool. For our last installment of Mindful May, we’re deep diving into the practice and cultivation of gratitude.
Gratitude: More Than Just a Fancy Way to Say “Thanks, Universe!”
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
Did you know that we time travel all the time? For real, stay with me here. Our minds are so powerful, that they can leave the present moment to worry about and plan for the future, and they can return to the past to relive all the painful and cringey times too. In the meantime, we miss out on everything happening right here, right now.
The beauty of gratitude is that, as Cicero suggests, it is the gateway to all other wonderful things in life. And we’re not just talking about those daily pleasantries or the obligatory thank-you card for Aunt Edna. When we’re a bit lost and not sure how to get back to a more positive experience of life, the answer is gratitude. Not sure what to say to someone? Try gratitude. Having trouble taking compliments? Just say “Thank you!” Want to improve a bad day? Yep, you guessed it—gratitude. And when we tap into that, it has the lovely side effect of bringing us right into the present moment.
Let’s learn more about why and how to incorporate gratitude into our daily lives.
Ask Your Doctor if Gratitude is Right for You
“Gratitude can transform any situation. It alters your vibration, moving you from negative energy to positive. It’s the quickest, easiest, most powerful way to effect change in your life—this I know for sure.” — Oprah Winfrey
Luckily, there are absolutely zero drawbacks to gratitude—our minds and bodies love it! As with any mindfulness or stress reduction exercise, there are numerous potential benefits of a gratitude practice:
- Improved Immune Function
- Better Sleep Quality
- Enhanced Heart Health
- Increased Energy Levels
- Pain Management
- Healthier Aging
- Upgraded Mental Wellbeing
But the magic of gratitude goes far beyond this, which is why it stands out from other mindfulness practices.
By shifting our perspective to one of appreciation and recognition, we can see that everything in the present moment (more often than not…) is okay. Whatever our mind is fixated on as lacking or needing, it melts away as we acknowledge what we already have. We tend to overlook our blessings when we get caught up in distractions and future worries, forgetting that those current blessings were once things wished for.
And it helps us remember all the little things that often escape notice—the beautiful weather, a bird singing, making a green light at the intersection when you’re running late, a stranger holding the door open for you. Folks who regularly tap into gratitude have noticed something delightful—when we commit to staying awake to the abundance of goodness around us, it acts like a magnet for more.
3 Keys to a Successful Gratitude Practice
“Gratitude is the power to connect with the cosmos and harness its energy.” — Sukant Ratnakar
Bringing gratitude into our daily awareness takes some practice, and breaking deeply ingrained negative thought patterns can take time. But with some commitment and a few pro tips, you’ll begin to notice the benefits more and more.
- Consistency. The most important factor. As neuroscience tells us, consistency is required to form a new habit and reinforce new neural pathways. Then it becomes like second nature, and when the chips are down and life gets tough, you’ll find that it’s there for you even amidst adversity.
- Specificity. If we express gratitude in general or vague ways, either to ourselves or others, it lessens the impact. It might take some practice, but try to slow down and keep focusing on what exactly brings you gratitude. Again, neuroscience is our friend here, because specificity helps ping our brain’s reward centers. Incorporating this will help your gratitude practice feel more authentic and your connections with others to deepen.
- Receptivity. Gratitude isn’t just a one-way street. As we increase our capacity to receive gratitude, we’ll discover an increased capacity to give it as well. Allow good things to come your way. You don’t have to explain or justify anything, consider just simply saying a heartfelt “Thank you.” By receiving gracefully, you might find that more wonderful things for which to be grateful come your way.
The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With One “Thank You”
“So it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.” — David Steindl-Rast
It’s great news that gratitude is such big news these days—the more, the merrier! (And it is contagious…) Numerous books, online resources, and podcasts are out there. And yet, a gratitude practice needn’t be complicated or require money. You can begin right where you are right now.
- Head over to Greater Good Magazine’s science-based Gratitude Quiz and see how you score. They also have plenty of tips and resources there to check out.
- Keeping a gratitude journal is an excellent exercise for reinforcing consistency and practicing specificity. Consider beginning a daily regimen while you’re in the early phases, but going to once a week after it’s become a regular habit. Journaling everyday can begin to feel tedious and forced, which causes the practice to lose its potency.
- Embark on a gratitude walk. Combining the health effects of walking, nature, and gratitude is that much more powerful. Observe what you see along the way—the colors, the birds, the trees. Feel the ground beneath your feet and the fresh air in your lungs. Go with a friend or loved one and it gets even better.
- Add gratitude to your meditation—another great combo! After breathing and centering yourself, think about something or someone you’re grateful for. Hold the image in your mind, breathe, and allow the feeling of gratitude to grow in you. Consider including things we generally take for granted like our hands, our eyes, the water we drink, etc.