By: Suzanne Klaus RD, LD, CPT
I remember the first time I heard someone talk about gratitude and writing down three things they were thankful each day. I was pretty skeptical. I thought gratitude required you to be happy all the time, or at least pretend to be. And, the idea of coming up with three things EVERY DAY was a little overwhelming.
Time passed, but the idea of gratitude kept coming back into my life. I decided to get a little more curious. This entailed figuring out what exactly gratitude is. I knew gratitude had to do with being thankful, but I wasn’t 100% sure if that was it or there was more to it. After doing a little of my own research I landed on the Harvard Medical School’s definition: “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
After reading some articles and books, particularly Shawn Achor’s, The Happiness Advantage, I was coming around to the idea of a gratitude. There are some really cool findings pertaining to gratitude research. Robert Emmons, Ph.D, a well-known expert in the field, has found through his studies that people who practice gratitude have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, high HDL and lower LDL cholesterol, better sleep, are happier and more alert, and feel less isolated. He also found these people to be more forgiving, generous and compassionate. There are so many other benefits too!
On March 17tha feeling of uncertainty and anxiousness set in. We made the decision to temporarily close our physical location and take everything virtual due to COVID. A day or so later the 30-Day Stay at Home Order was issued. It was such a surreal time. I remember going on social media and seeing all the uncertainly and negativity. I decided I was going to finally start my daily gratitude. On March 19thI made my first post on Facebook, sharing three things I was thankful for and have continued daily since.
Here’s what I have noticed so far:
I get to start my day off on a positive note! By doing my gratitude first thing in the morning I start my day by thinking of all the things I am thankful for. It helps to set a good tone for my day.
I feel more connected to and appreciative of people. By reflecting on my gratitude, I get to think about all the supportive, positive, and caring interactions I’ve had with people. This has been so meaningful to me.
I realized I could express gratitude for all the “little” things often taken for granted. Running water, heating and cooling, and a roof over my head are all things I have never had to go without.
I look at the world through a more positive lens. A lot of our day to day activities involve looking for problems. When you are actively thinking about what you are thankful for, you are training your brain to search for the good. For example, before I drove a Mazda CX5 I never saw them on the road. Now that I have one I see them all over the place. There wasn’t a drastic increase of Mazda CX5s purchased, it is just at the forefront of my mind.
Just because you practice a daily gratitude doesn’t mean you have to think the world is all sunshine and rainbows.This was one of my hold ups to trying a daily gratitude. I thought you would have to pretend to be thankful for things and could only be happy (or at least pretend to be) all the time. That is by far the case. It’s okay to be sad or unhappy and there are still times when I get upset or stress out about something, but I will say the frequency has decreased.
It helps me through tough times.This has worked two fold. Because I have been training my brain, I still search for the positives. I am not dismissing my problems or feelings. I am choosing to reframe something or just know that even though things aren’t going well right now it will get better. Once I get through whatever it is that might be bothering me I am stronger for it and am thankful not only for getting through it, but the strength I’ve built and/or lesson learned.
I didn’t wake up one day and feel everything had changed. It was more gradual, which made it a little harder to notice at first. Looking back I can see how much this practice has helped me.
I chose to start my gratitude practice by listing three things I am thankful for, but that’s not the only way to practice gratitude. You could write a letter of gratitude to someone each day. You can practice being more mindful and aware of the gifts (physically or not) you are receiving. You can pay attention to the words you choose to use, opportunity vs. must do, gift vs. curse… Whatever you choose, make sure it does not feel like an added burden to you.
For most of 2020 I posted my gratitude on Facebook. I love seeing the comments of what others are thankful for. It was an added bonus to my day. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your gratitude with anyone, you don’t have to. A study by two Indiana University professors, found that the simple act of writing out your gratitude was enough to see the benefits. In fact in their study, participants could choose whether or not to give their letter of gratitude to the intended person and only 23% did. Both participants who gave their letters and did not give their letters reported better mental health versus the control group.
For the next 30 days think about training your brain to look for the good and start a daily gratitude!