"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough." -Oprah Winfrey
How was YOUR Thanksgiving?
We had a tradition growing up that I'm sure many of you had your own version of. We would go around the dinner table at Thanksgiving and share what we're grateful for. It always left you with a warm, fuzzy feeling (and that was before the Tryptophan and wine kicked in).
I was reminded this year of the tradition and the power of gratitude. Turns out my parents, and the Pilgrims for that matter, were onto something pretty big with giving thanks.
If you haven't heard me talk about it before, gratitude is sitting pretty in the world of positive psychology, nabbing the spot of one of the most scientifically proven ways to boost happiness.
While gratitude might sound all cheery and lighthearted, don't let it fool you; it packs a serious neurological punch. When we're grateful, we activate the reward centers in our brain and release the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine has gotten pretty famous for being the chemical responsible for the sweet feeling of reward.
Gratitude can also boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is the same neurotransmitter Prozac nudges.
Why is this even important?
We’re naturally wired to scan for negative events. Blame it on our hunter-gatherer days. It’s a self-protection, survival thing. For even the most sunny of us, “negative events still have a greater impact on everyone’s brains than positive events do.” (Read more here.)
While a negativity bias is a great way to avoid being attacked by a tiger, it’s not the best way to see new opportunities that present themselves or to feel good about things.
That’s where gratitude comes in. Our brains have the ability to structurally change.
Sounds a little X-Men-ish, but it's the magic of brain plasticity, and we can harness this knowledge and use it for our benefit.
As Shawn Achor says in The Happiness Advantage, “We can retrain the brain to scan for the good things in life—to help us see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels.”
Gratitude doesn't stop at happiness.
Research shows gratitude increases mental strength, improves self-esteem, sleep, empathy and reduces aggression. Gratitude has been shown to improve psychological health, physical health, and help with relationships.
And gratitude just keeps on going with its resume of benefits. It's been shown that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude. (Read more here.)
So, those Pilgrims were onto more than they knew when they started what is now the tradition of Thanksgiving. Turns out they were setting themselves up for happiness and success, in their case, survival.
Gratitude, much like anything else that's good for us, gives us more of its benefits when done consistently.
Not feeling oh-so-grateful? That's ok, it's the act of looking for something to be grateful for that counts. The Upward Spiral says, "It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place."
This year, instead of a fridge full of leftovers, what if the "leftovers" from Thanksgiving were gratitude? What if we took that once-a-year tradition and began to bring it into our ever day lives?
Here Are Two Ways to Make Gratitude a Part of Your Daily Life:
1. Start a gratitude journal. According to Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity people who keep a gratitude journal are 25 percent happier, sleep longer, and exercise more than those who don't keep a gratitude journal. If nothing else, do it for the sleep ;).
Try writing three things a day you're grateful for. This is a part of my morning ritual!
Writing down three things a day you're grateful for over a week has been shown to have benefits that last for up to 6 months!
2. Write a thank-you note or thank-you email to someone expressing your gratitude. This is a twofer, both you and the person who receives your letter will get a feel-good boost. You'll get an extra jolt if you deliver your thank-you note in person.
(A study showed that people who wrote thank you notes and then delivered them felt happier a full month later!)
Since I always want to practice what I preach; I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for you. Thank you for being a part of my inner-circle and reading every week! I can't tell you how much it means to me to be able to do the work I love, and I wouldn't be able to do it without you!
With lots of gratitude and big love!