Do you start your day thinking about the problems you have to solve? The tasks you need to accomplish? Do you roll out of bed exhausted already and grumpy, dreading the day? How about taking a quick moment before opening you eyes to express gratitude for something or someone in your life instead?
The positive effects of practicing gratitude are a newer and burgeoning area in mental health. I have also found it very effective in my psychotherapy sessions. Our thoughts have an immediate impact on brain activity and our resulting mood. So in a specific moment our thoughts can fuel our anger, increase our experience of physical pain or leave us feeling hopeless. The good news? Change these same thoughts to positive ones and the effect is just as immediate. It takes practice. Hear that annoying siren outside? I’m so glad someone is being taken care of today!
The John Templeton Foundation at California, Berkeley has conducted research using participants that practice gratitude to explore both the positive physical benefits as well as impacts on personal well-being. Some of their findings include stronger immune system functioning, lower blood pressure, more positive emotions, including joy and happiness, greater compassion and less loneliness.
There are a few ways to start practicing gratitude right away to get these amazing benefits. Keep a gratitude journal and write 3 to 5 items in it everyday. Trust me, you can always find something. But it will take practice. I was a board member for the Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario and one of the board member’s duties was to review participant evaluations after they took a 14-week course to learn how to manage anxiety. This was a course that taught many ways of targeting anxiety symptoms, but the gratitude journal was always an identified favourite.
Another way to try to feel the impact of practicing gratitude can be a meditation like the one below. This is a more spiritual way to practice gratitude for those of you that are craving this connection in you life.
I surrender to the universal, guiding, healing and loving energy of the universe.
Please help me to be open to guidance and insight.
Please guide my eyes to see, my ears to hear, my thoughts to be healthy, my mouth to speak clearly and with compassion, my hands to heal and connect.
Help me to be changed by the people I meet today.
Help me to trust.
I send out my spirit helpers to keep my life ever changing and evolving.
Thank you for my family, friends and calling/vocation. Thank you for my life.
Try this! See how it makes you feel. Take a moment after completing this meditation to feel the effect of it on your body and mood. Observe if your day goes differently. Make sure you set yourself up for success. It is always hard to start new things. Try your gratitude journal 3 days a week. Do it with your colleagues or your spouse. Have fun!