Blog written by: Erin Jones, M.A., M.Ed., LPC
Image from: https://pixabay.com
As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, it's the perfect time to reflect on the profound connection between gratitude and our overall health and wellness. While many people associate Thanksgiving with a long day of preparation, cooking, and culminating all of those activities into a grand feast, it's essential to remember that the spirit of the holiday goes far beyond food. Gratitude can be a powerful force in promoting mental, emotional, relational, and physical well-being. Practicing gratitude is not just this nice or noble-sounding thing we can do so we can have warm and fuzzy feelings in the moment.
Research has shown that regularly practiced gratitude can significantly impact our health. Studies have revealed that regularly expressing gratitude improves our mood, lowers stress levels, and enhances overall well-being. It's important to understand that gratitude is not merely a feeling but a daily practice. By actively acknowledging the things we are thankful for, we can rewire our brains to focus on the positive aspects of our lives. This has many benefits for our well-being and for those around us. To make this point, let's look at just three benefits of practicing thankfulness.
1. Mental and Emotional Health Benefits:
Gratitude can be a powerful tool for enhancing mental health. When we practice noticing what we can be grateful for, we feed a mindset of thankfulness and shift our focus from what's lacking in our lives to what we already have. This shift can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, gratitude can foster a more optimistic outlook, increasing resilience in the face of challenges and impacting how we interact with those around us. Likewise, our emotions play a vital role in our overall well-being, and practices involving gratitude nurture our emotions. Cultivating gratitude can promote a sense of contentment and joy, leading to a more positive emotional state. When we appreciate the people and experiences that bring joy and happiness, we reinforce those connections and emotions, creating a cycle of positivity.
2. Building Stronger Relationships:
Thanksgiving is often a time for gathering with loved ones, focusing on the relationships most important to us, and being purposeful in giving thanks and focusing on our loved ones. Gratitude can strengthen these bonds. Through a thankful heart, we are able to love deeper, grow more patient with others, offer more grace when mistakes are made, and forgive others and ourselves more. Expressing appreciation for the people in our lives benefits our mental health and deepens our connections with others. Gratitude, when noticed and expressed often, benefits those around us as well. Think of a time someone noticed something they appreciated in you and how that made you feel when they expressed that gratitude.
3. Physical Health Benefits:
The mind and body are closely connected, and gratitude can positively impact physical health too! Research suggests that grateful individuals tend to engage in healthier relationships and healthier behaviors such as exercise, better nutrition, and regular check-ups. Practicing gratitude calms our nervous system, allowing us the emotional space we need to process life’s ups and downs. The reduced stress and improved mental health associated with gratitude can also contribute to a stronger immune system.
Incorporating Gratitude into Daily Life:
Let's explore how practicing thankfulness can lead to a happier, healthier life. Remember, to reap the benefits of gratitude, it's essential to make it a regular practice, not just a seasonal activity. Here are some ways to incorporate thankfulness into your daily routine:
a. Keep a gratitude journal to write down things you're thankful for each day. It may feel awkward initially but do not limit yourself to needing to fill in the space with life-altering things to be thankful for. Even the smell of fresh air, a beautiful plant or flower in your yard, a smile from a passer-by, or a parking space close to the grocery store entrance are all things we can take a moment to acknowledge and be grateful for.
b. Set aside time for daily meditation or reflection on what brings you joy. Do not panic! It does not have to be twenty minutes that needs to be set aside, creating additional stress as you think about how, on earth, you’ll find twenty more minutes in your day. A few minutes here, a few minutes there, or a set time before bed will all do. It is more about taking a few moments to reflect and experience that gratitude, honor it, and train your brain to notice these things throughout your day that count.
c. Express gratitude to others through kind words and gestures. It takes so little time and effort to speak a few words of gratitude to another human being. We all know that feeling when someone takes a minute to smile, say thank you, compliment something, or express appreciation and gratitude for something we have done, something we said, or for some part of who we are and how it makes them feel. Try to do this a few times each day. You will be amazed by how it can put our troubles into perspective.
d. Practice mindfulness to stay present and appreciate the little things in life. We do not have to set specific times aside each day to stay in an attitude of gratitude. Yes, having those set times can be very helpful, but we can also choose to stay in that mindset by practicing being mindful of what we notice. We do not need to judge, change, control, or even fix it—just notice. For example, if you are cutting vegetables for your meal, notice the fragrance as you do so and notice the vibrance of the colors you see. Likewise, if you are relaxing to watch a show in the evening, consider gratitude for the moment to do so and notice the heaviness of your body as it sinks into that favorite chair—the secure sense of being grounded there and relaxed.
Consider writing heartfelt notes, offering a smile as you internally notice gratitude for your loved one at the table this Thanksgiving season, or simply taking a second to express how much you appreciate them to those close to you. Then, be sure to notice the thankfulness in your heart as you observe the smile you just created in them because of your small, simple, but life-affirming gesture!
So, as we all approach this Thanksgiving season, I want to thank all the amazing people I work with. My clients and those supportive colleagues all make the work so meaningful and rewarding. I am so proud of each of you and your willingness to be brave, realistic, transparent, and own what you own! It truly is inspiring to see the transformations. I am thankful for my family and their support.
This year, as I consider all that I have to be thankful for, I especially give thanks for the beautiful life spent with Maggie Mae, my sweet Golden Retriever who made life bearable and joyful through the best and darkest days over the last nearly sixteen years. As many of you know, I wrote a short book on dog loss and grief in her honor, and as a way to process my loss after she left this world in April. It is not fancy, big, or necessarily my best work, but came from the heart and reflects how meaningful that bond was to me. Life has not been the same since losing her, but I am so grateful for the years I had with my beautiful girl. If you have a precious pet that makes your world a better place, give that fuzzball a great big hug, and then do it again for me!
Consider where your focus is right now and the potential of gratitude's impact on your life and well-being. Choose to make it a priority of your focus. Where we put our focus really does matter!
“Where focus goes, energy flows. And where energy flows, whatever you're focusing on grows”
Let's all remember that gratitude is not just a fleeting sentiment to be pulled out once a year; it's a powerful tool for promoting health and wellness in all aspects of our lives. By focusing on the positive, expressing appreciation for our blessings, and building stronger connections with others, we can experience the transformative effects of gratitude. When we practice gratitude, we engage in both the act of giving and receiving. As you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, consider making gratitude a core part of your health and wellness journey.
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