2020 was a lot of things but the one thing I keep circling back around to is my deeper and greater appreciation for all I was taking for granted in the past from clean air to face to face conversations with friends and colleagues. It has reminded me on a daily basis to be more grateful for the every day. As much as I love the “warm and fuzzy”, I also love science and research. There’s extensive research on gratitude, showing a multitude of benefits not only for our mental health but physical well being. When something so simple can have such profound benefits, we should all be paying more attention. Studies have shown a regular gratitude practice can:
Increase happiness and decrease depression
Improve relationships with friends and family especially during times of stress (Hello 2020, looking at you!)
Increase likelihood of regular exercise
Improve sleep quality
Improve self esteem and increase mental resilience, (aka your ability to deal with difficult things)
Decrease blood pressure
Decrease cellular inflammation and increase release of dopamine (one of the essential, feel good neurotransmitters)
Improve overall physical health
And in the ultimate pay it forward, not only does a gratitude practice increase empathy and compassion for others but also creates a positive ripple effect for those around us and beyond.
Like most things in life, there’s not a "one size fits all” on how to express gratitude. Here are several options so you can find what works well for you:
A daily gratitude journal. This is where you write about things, people and situations you’re grateful for. This can be free-form but there are also lots of pre-made journals to help guide you along if that’s easier for you.
Meditate on gratitude. This is a double bonus option of combining the benefits of mediation AND a gratitude practice.
Write thank you notes and/or a weekly gratitude letter to someone
Look for and think about things and reasons to be grateful on a daily basis. This can be as simple as your morning cup of coffee and as profound as help received from others.
A Gratitude Jar. This option is a great family activity. Have pre-cut slips of paper and everyone regularly writes something and adds it to the jar. Read the jar’s contents together at the end of the month and then start all over again.
Pay attention to your 5 senses and how much they enhance the quality of your life every day
Smile! The act of smiling increases a positive mindset which in turns increases your gratitude.
Say thank you on a regular basis in a thoughtful, meaningful way
I think most of us weren't sad to see the close of this past year, but let’s begin the new year with optimism and gratitude which will make us all happier and healthier.
* Article first published in the December 2020 issue of Tualatin Life