The Mindful Enthusiast: Gratitude’s role in general well-being and health

gratitude

This time of year is all about togetherness and connection.  Sometimes this emphasis can bring stress, anxiety, or additional responsibilities (or all of the above).  I want to honor everyone’s experience – I believe the winter months can be a challenging time for many, regardless of holiday traditions.  But in this post I’m going to focus on gratitude – something that is often the theme of Thanksgiving celebrations and other winter holidays.   

“What are you thankful for?”

Such a simple question…in theory.  Expressing gratitude is a somewhat complex process – we are not only recognizing goodness, but also that this good the result of someone or something outside of ourselves.  Robert Emmons, a well-respected expert in gratitude, regards it as a “relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”   

Practicing gratitude isn’t about ignoring or pushing away hurtful or sad realities – it is about tapping into your own inherent resilience.  I believe it brings balance to the way we approach life and the world around us.   

How can developing a gratitude practice help me in my practice?

The research available on gratitude is incredibly interesting to me – I see it as an example of mindfulness in action. This practice shifts our perspective on a situation and increases feelings of happiness.  When we feel happier we approach conflicts and challenges creatively, and overall happiness can lower stress hormones in our bodies and brain.  Gratitude has also been found to be linked to positive health outcomes both physically and psychologically:

  • Build stronger relationships with colleagues, clients, and community partners.
  • Manage feelings of burnout or vicarious (or primary) trauma when working with marginalized communities or communities in crisis.  
  • Manage staff and volunteer more effectively, as well as increase productivity and commitment to work.

In terms of our own individual physical well-being, researchers have found individuals who kept a daily gratitude journal for one month had lower blood pressure, reported regular physical activity, and increased levels of quality sleep.   

What are some ways I can practice gratitude and increase feelings of gratefulness?

Great question!  I think this truly something that each person needs to discover for themselves.  There are a lot of options (good news!) and Greater Good in Action also offers some wonderful exercises and suggestions.  I personally use a gratitude journal.  I try to capture at least five things I’m grateful for each day.  Sometimes they’re as small as the feeling of the pen in my hand or as big as an important person or relationship.  Finding the time to engage in this process most days has helped me face unexpected (and expected) roadblocks with a little more patience and perspective.

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