Stop for a moment and experience a deep heart-felt thanks for something or someone in your life. Feel how your heart opens and your energy lifts. Gratitude, and its intrinsic companion appreciation, will always have an elevating effect; both are stepping stones to love and more of all you feel grateful for.
When you feel grateful you get to experience the beautiful qualities you feel grateful for all over again, which is one reason why gratitude feels so great!
Whatever you focus on grows, so when you appreciate something and recognize its value, those qualities can expand in your life. Feeling grateful naturally and effortlessly aligns your heart and mind to that which you love, and in doing so invites more of the same into your life.
Counting your blessings focuses your attention on everything in your life you have to feel grateful for; all the wonderful people, experiences and things you enjoy and appreciate.
In appreciating and feeling grateful for something you more fully ‘receive’ it, letting the experience in, as well as give to it from your heart; it’s an immediate exchange of both giving and receiving.
It is no surprise gratitude has been found in research studies to enhance well-being. We don’t need scientific research to prove its inherently obvious gifts (how could gratitude not be good for you?), yet there is ample evidence available to confirm various merits.
One example study by Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough found that keeping a gratitude journal as an exercise (listing at the end of the day 5-10 things you are grateful of over the last 24 hours) generated a 25% increase in happiness levels. And that’s not all, there were a number of other positive life benefits.
In their findings the group that did “gratitude intervention” (keeping a gratitude journal) were:
* More likely to have made progress toward personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based) over a two-month period.
* Reported higher levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.
* Exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic.
Gratitude has also been found to benefit those struggling with mental health concerns. One study by Joel Wong et al was a controlled trial on nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university. The majority of these people struggled with issues related to depression and anxiety.
One group was instructed to write a letter of gratitude to someone every week for three weeks. They found that those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health 4 weeks and 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those with mental health issues.
In digging deeper into various results to address how gratitude might work they came up with 4 insights that, whilst not definitive, suggest more of what might be behind gratitude’s psychological benefits.
These 4 insights were:
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions
- Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it
- Gratitude’s benefits take time
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain
Studies on gratitude and the brain are not new. One from the UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center also concluded that “regularly expressing gratitude literally changes the molecular structure of the brain… and makes us happier and healthier.”
What are you grateful for?
There is always something to feel grateful for, present and past. Less usual, you can also feel grateful for futures you are creating and blessings on their way! Doing so can help you more readily attract those realities into your life.
Less usual still, you can use gratitude for challenges and problematic areas, people, experiences and circumstances to see if there are any hidden gifts with a little digging.
If there is an area of your life that feels blocked, is not going as you would like, or is causing upset or frustration, for example, try applying gratitude as a transformer. To do this, look to anything you can feel grateful for surrounding the situation. This is not the same as being grateful for the situation per se, which is unrealistic if it is one that you are unhappy with, but you may pick out some gems and new perspectives.
You can explore this by asking yourself questions such as:
“What have I learned (that I can feel grateful for)?”
“What good has come from this or could come from this?”
“How might my life be better for this, and if not right now, in the future?”
“Have I become wiser/more compassionate/more open/stronger/[you name it], or have the potential for doing so?”
“How has this helped me discover more about myself?”
When it comes to giving thanks, express that thanks to those you are grateful for; gratitude is a gracious gift for anyone it touches! Just as being on the experiencing end of gratitude has such benefits, it is always heart-warming and nourishing to receive.