How Gratitude Shapes Your Health
For those of you new to practicing gratitude, the idea of having a daily practice might sound a little “woo-woo” hippy-dippy. But let’s break it down: when I say the word “practice”, more likely than not, you will associate the word with sports, athletics, maybe even an artistic outlet, or another form of training that takes intention. That’s all gratitude “practice” is; training your mind to create space for gratitude so that your health can reap the rewards. Just like lifting weights, practicing gratitude takes time to see improvement, intentionality and proper form, and makes a physical impact that you will be able to see.
Something important to keep in mind about this practice is that your thoughts make paths in your mind. The thoughts that we think frequently create a paved path in our minds that become a shortcut. This shortcut becomes an easy go-to for your mind to think about and therefore becomes a thought that we think unconsciously, without intention, more frequently.
Think of it this way: you look in the mirror every morning and think “ugh, I hate my hair”. You do this every morning, so much, that it creates a brain shortcut. Your brain now has this shortcut and starts inserting it into other places in your life. If gone unnoticed, this could reach the point where any negative feeling could instantly lead you back to thinking about how much you “hate your hair” and what once was a little thought about your morning hair is now a constant insecurity. All because you created a shortcut in your morning routine.
Our thoughts require intentional training just as much as our bodies do. Practicing gratitude - I mean ACTUALLY choosing to make it a regular practice, not just saying one thing you are grateful for at the Thanksgiving table - will create a shortcut for your brain that continues to lead you back to gratitude. And trust me, with all the health benefits that come from gratitude, this is a cycle you will want to take part in.
Your Body Will Say "Thank You" Back
To keep it simple, gratitude has been linked to a bundle of health benefits, including improved sleep, better heart health and more energy.
Some of the studies suggest that there is conflict in deciphering which came first, the health or the gratitude. In studies conducted on patients who already had generally good health, the impact of gratitude seemed to make little difference in their health. However, the majority of these patients already reported a relatively consistent grateful composure or regular gratitude practice. In these situations, it is difficult to tell if the good health fostered gratitude or if the gratitude was having a positive impact on their already good health.
In studies conducted on patients who experience chronic pain, the results were much easier to identify. Studies have shown improved heart health, better sleep, and more energy altogether. In studies where the patient only practiced gratitude for a short period of time (1-2 weeks), little evidence was found that a positive difference had incurred. It was through repeated, long-term studies that the correlation of gratitude can be linked to the above health benefits.
What does this mean for you? Practicing gratitude once a year (or even once every few months when you remember to) will not produce new fruit in your life. It might make you feel good in the moment and give you a reason to pat yourself on the back, but there is so much more to gratitude if you make it a regular part of your day. Take the word practice literally and make gratitude part of your morning or evening routine.
Mix Up Your Gratitude Routine
Keeping a gratitude journal is an easy way to start fostering more gratitude in your life, buuuuutttttttt if you have already considered practicing gratitude before, you know it is also one of the most overly recommended ideas out there. While keeping a gratitude journal can be extremely helpful and might be the right choice for some of you, I have found there are plenty of other ways to practice gratitude in my daily routine. Here are some of my favorites:
- Set a reminder to send a text of gratitude to someone every day before you start your workday
- Sit down with your partner at the end of each day and tell them 5 things you are grateful for (in general, or specifically about them!)
- Spend time doing something you are passionate about and reflect on why you are grateful for this passion and the way it makes you feel
- Move your body! Find a way of exercising that you enjoy and partake in it regularly
- Keep a photo diary for a month of one thing you are grateful for each day
- Make a creative sign that reminds you to stop and give thanks for three things in your life. Hang one on your fridge, above your desk, and on your bathroom mirror
- Alternate the types of things you reflect on as a source of gratitude: Mondays are for reflecting on nature, Tuesdays are for the people in your life, Wednesdays are for your own personality traits and looks, and so on
- Remember to say "thank you" for everything. Pray a "thank you" over your food and your day. Say thank you when your spouse takes out the trash...even if it's his "job" anyway...
Remember, it’s not necessarily how you practice, it’s the intentionality to make sure you do it every day. Find a way (or two or three) that sticks for you and pursue it. Make it part of your morning or evening routine and keep your eyes out for the difference you see in your life down the road!
Gratitude Is Not Your "Thing"?
I hear you. I am naturally a feisty, no sugar-coating kind of person. If someone would have told me in the midst of my hardest years battling depression to “just be grateful”, I would have rolled my eyes so hard I would win an award. (Side note, is there an award for eye-rolling? Does it at least count as an exercise?) No matter if you choose to believe it or not, the evidence is there! Those who practice gratitude (even when they have no reason to) are prone to experiencing more reasons to be grateful INCLUDING actual improved mental and physical health.
If you are on the fence about it, I dare you to dive all in. What do you have to lose, right? Prove me wrong. Six months from now when you have practiced gratitude every day, let me know I am wrong and you experienced no real results mentally or physically. But that means you have to commit to the practice for 6 months, deal? This is your permission to try something at no cost that might make a difference in your life. Take the opportunity. Even if it’s small at first. Commit to finding one thing to be grateful for every day and speak it out loud.
Let's Get Started
- Take the free enneagram test to dive into your self-awareness and potential blind spots you’ve had about how you innately approach gratitude
- Before starting your gratitude practice, spend three days simply being aware of how gratitude is present (or absent) in your daily thoughts
- Make a schedule, set a reminder, do whatever you need to in order to start this new habit
- Find a way that will keep you excited to practice gratitude. Tell a friend what you are doing and have them join you, buy an awesome journal you look forward to writing in, make your practice a relaxing evening ritual you think about all-day
- Pay attention to how your language changes as you begin to cultivate more gratitude in your life
I started a gratitude practice about 6 years ago. I'm not going to tell you which ones I used, because I want you to pick ones that resonate with you. Those practices have become rooted in my routine and have transformed my health and my life. If you are looking for cheap/free, proven, and EASY bio-hacks for your mental and physical health, then gratitude is for you.
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