It’s that time of year again where we sit around the dinner table and tell our loved ones what we’re grateful for. Being surrounded by friends, family, turkey, and pie gives a warm and fuzzy feeling that makes it hard to choose just one thing.
Times likes these should be treasured, but they don’t have to come once a year. It's so easy to fall back into our daily grind and focus on all the things that aren't going our way. But there’s a popular movement going on with life coaches, spiritual teachers, and psychologists that suggest we should express this kind of gratitude every single day. Tony Robbins had a great interview with Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday special. In it, he breaks down his morning ritual which heavily revolves around a gratitude journal.
If successful folks like Tony and Oprah take time out of their busy days to say “thank you,” there must be some kind of next-level value - time is money, after all. Thanks to dozens of studies on the subject, evidence now proves what we've felt all along. Here are five areas in your life where a little “thank you” can go a long way.
1) Stronger Immune System
The mind-body connection is powerful. Research has proven that a positive mindset actually boosts your immune system.
"In one study, researchers comparing the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress found that, by midterm, students characterized as optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates." -WebMD
We become what we think. If we’re thinking negative thoughts, our bodies will respond accordingly. Ever worried yourself so much you became sick? Which brings us to a
2) Healthier Body
In addition to the above-mentioned physiological effects, grateful people appreciate their bodies. They are more likely to take care of themselves by going to the doctor and exercising regularly. This, of course, causes a ripple effect. When we workout, the body releases endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body, making one grateful. This is a hamster wheel we should all hop on.
Next time you experience pure and utter joy, take note of how it feels. It’s light, it’s positive, it brings perspective. Joy helps little insecurities and fears disappear for a moment because there’s just not room for them. This feeling doesn’t have to come once in a blue moon. A study by the American Psychologist in 2005 reports:
"A one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms, but the effects disappeared within six months and three months, respectively.
On the other hand, instructing participants to write down three things that went well and their causes every night for one week had a long-lasting impact. After one week, participants were 2% happier than before, but in follow-up tests, their happiness kept on increasing, from 5% at one month, to 9% at six months. All this, even though they were only instructed to journal for one week. Participants enjoyed the exercise so much, that they just kept doing it on their own."
Simply put, gratitude feels good and it helps us focus on what’s working. The more positivity we feel, the more positivity we attract. Like attracts like.
4) Increased Mental Strength
Psychology Today did a story on Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher. After conducting multiple studies on the relationship between gratitude and well-being, his research proved that gratitude actually increased happiness and diminished depression. Sure beats taking a pill…
The act of writing down what we’re grateful for, as opposed to thinking about it, helps focus our mind on the activity. Instead of letting our thoughts wander, we’re forced to laser in on the task at hand – being grateful. Often times we sit and spiral over a negative experience in the past – be it five minutes or five years ago. This activity breaks up that cycle, shifting focus toward gratitude. After our mind focuses on something long enough, our emotions tune in and begin to feel it. That positive emotion spreads into our body, which has been proven to function better with positive emotions. The goal is to create a positivity spiral that will last a little longer each day.
5) Better Sleep
How many of us have tossed and turned at night over something negative, replaying a situation over and over again? We are taken from the “now” – a place where we’re safe and sound - and have transported ourselves into a time when we were angry, sad, hurt, or scared. Worry was meant to protect us, to keep us from harm, and prepare us for battle. But we’re no longer cave men and cave women fighting for survival. So this worry function is no longer helpful, it’s debilitating.
Focusing on positive emotions before bedtime switches this around. Nancy Digdon, psychology professor at Grant MacEwan University, conducted a study with her students that revealed they slept longer and better when keeping a gratitude journal (complete study here). Our mind will undoubtedly wander - let’s take it to a good place instead of the unhealthy alternative.
It’s our responsibility to teach our children gratitude – to train their brains. Children are extremely influential and unknowingly developing lifelong habits – good or bad. Kids who express gratitude at an early age develop positive habits of having an optimistic outlook on life. They like their school, their teachers, themselves. Not to mention their parents (cough, cough).
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