When you woke up this morning did you think, “Ugh, another day filled with all sorts of chores and I don’t want to get out of this comfortable, warm bed!”?
Or did you think, “I’m so thankful for waking up, being given another day of life, for the opportunities ahead to share kindness…”?
Your thoughts immediately upon wakening each day say a great deal about you, and the kind of day, indeed the kind of life, you’ll have.
Those who awaken daily to a mind filled with gratitude find grace and graciousness throughout life. The word gratitude is anchored in the Latin word gratia, meaning these gifts for, and of a positive life.
And the good news is you can train yourself to open your eyes, your heart, at the start of every day, to grateful thoughts – especially valuable during these emotionally trying times of COVID19 when building wellbeing is particularly essential to living healthily.
Robert Emmons, considered by many to be the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, suggests that gratitude is:
a) an “affirmation of goodness” that allows us to see and experience good things in the world, even through dark times. This allows us to recognize and appreciate the gifts we’ve received throughout our lives.
b) a feeling anchored outside of ourselves, promoting the recognition that others afford us “gifts to help us achieve goodness in our lives. This also brings us closer to others – an important element in overall wellbeing and health.
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning with your first thought being, “thank you.” This will serve as an alert for you to consider what you’ve received from others, inspiring your brain chemistry to be more in tune with appreciation, and will serve as the fuel to build healthier social bonds with others throughout your day.
Yes, brain chemistry. A study the Department of Psychology, Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California, by Fox, Kaplan, Damasio and Damasio, “found that grateful brains showed enhanced activity in two primary regions: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These areas have been previously associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding and rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and the ability to understand the mental states of others.”
In a white paper titled, “The Science of Gratitude” the Greater Good Science Center outlined several benefits to the practice of gratitude:
- increased happiness and positive mood
- more satisfaction with life
- less materialistic
- less likely to experience burnout
- better physical health
- better sleep
- less fatigue
- lower levels of cellular inflammation
- greater resiliency
- encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom
- increases prosocial behaviors
- strengthens relationships
- may help employees’ effectiveness
- may increase job satisfaction
Here’s what Harvard Health says are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a consistent basis
Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).
Gratitude is a muscle and like all muscles, it must be exercised actively, regularly, to remain strong and provide the health benefits that all muscles do when operating well. And it all begins before you even get out of bed with a simple thought in your mind, “thank you.” After all, “the link is what you think.”