Taking time to pause and give thanks, to express and acknowledge gratitude in our lives is such a powerful practice. Just consider the times you do this. You feel good right? Research into gratitude practices has found that when we feel appreciation, our hormones up-level to feel good ones such as oxytocin.
When we first wake and open our eyes, we may take time to orient ourselves back to where we are. Once conscious awareness registers, the mind starts to be flooded with thoughts of the “to do list” and getting ready for the day. There can be a certain amount of tension or stress creeping in, a mounting feeling of overwhelm as you think of all the things you need to do that day.
Imagine a different scenario, when you wake, you bring to mind things that you are thankful for, you might start with, “I am thankful for……” and see what comes up. Take some time to mull over the people, things, experiences you are grateful for and notice how this makes you feel. You may find a smile on your face, perhaps a feeling of pleasure, happiness, joy.
Beginning your day from this starting point, can really set you up well for your day and help you feel more connected to the people around you and to noticing the pleasant experiences that arise rather than the moments that are not so pleasant.
As you resonate in this way you might find that your day goes much more smoothly, that you will have enriching interactions and connections with others. Noticing the good things in life, helps to counter the default mode mechanism that is linked to the reptilian brain which is primed for “fight flight” mode and whose antenna is switched on to possible threats.
There is a lot of research being done on gratitude practices. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude.
In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
There is a biochemical response in the body when we express and feel gratitude. In her article on “Thanksgiving: What Gratitude Does to Your Brain” by Sara Gottfried 13/11/16 gratitude increases the release of one of the “feel-good” hormones, serotonin, furthering its connection with happiness”. https://bit.ly/2UKZrdN
Who are gratitude practices for?
Everyone can benefit. We think around 60 -80k thoughts a day and most of those are repetitive. If you have a tendency to worry, to worry about what others think of you, worry for others, worry about the past or the future, then these practices will intercept the lopping and repetitive pattern that worry creates.
The practice of expressing gratitude can be good for neutralising the voice inside the head that moans, which tends to bring in the poor me victim mode, or righteous indignation, which can cause stress and be divisive in nature. Gratitude practices tend to have a unifying and connecting effect that brings people together and helps us to feel more connected in a meaningful way that brings greater quality to our lives.
A simple Gratitude Practice
Try this exercise out.
Write down or bring to mind three things you appreciate and are grateful for.
Think of a person, an experience, a thing/object. Notice how you feel and where you experience the feel-good sensations, take time to register and absorb the effects of the practice.
This is a good thing to do a few times a day, morning and last thing at night are good times. As you practice everyday, it is suggested to find new things to be grateful for rather than focussing on the things you brought to mind the day before. This keeps the practice fresh and helps to expand the experience of gratitude.
Deepak Chopra says about gratitude, “When you focus on the things you are grateful for, it opens you to the source of what brings things into your life, it removes your ego which is a nice way of getting in touch with your spirit. Focus on the things you are grateful for and you go into the source of abundance”.
If this isn’t already in your repertoire of wellbeing practices, then give it a go and enhance your day with an attitude of gratitude!