By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist
People often load dialogue with gratitude or grievances, depending on whether they see life through a lens of abundance or scarcity.
Started in 1999, positive psychology studies happiness and how it affects overall health and well-being. In contrast to traditional psychology, which focuses on dysfunction like mental illness, positive psychology examines how we can become happier and more fulfilled, and how that can cure or prevent physical, emotional and interpersonal breakdowns.
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude guru and author of “Gratitude Works!: A 21-day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity,” the overarching benefits of gratitude include awareness and celebration of the present moment; blocking toxic emotions; stress-resiliency; stronger social ties; and greater self-worth.
More specifically, scientific studies are proving that practicing gratitude reduces depression, anxiety, anger and burnout. It allows for better and longer sleep, lowers blood pressure, supports weight loss and fosters optimism, which positively affects the immune system.
Dr. Emmons says there is a difference between feeling grateful and being grateful. “Feeling grateful is a response to a benefit, while being grateful is a way of life,” he writes. This isn’t just a form of positive thinking, it’s truly a way of being.
So how do we make gratitude a way of life? First and foremost, we accept life as a gift. This concept reminds me of a beautiful quote from an unknown author: “I opened two gifts this morning, they were my eyes.”
When we shift our focus to what we’re grateful for, our body chemistry actually changes. In studies where participants practiced gratitude for only four weeks, cortisol – the stress hormone – was lowered and dehydroepiandrosterone – a precursor to sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen – increased. In another 10-week study, the so-called “happy hormones” like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin increased.
Here are some practical examples of how you can cultivate gratitude:
– Keep a gratitude journal. You can record something large or small to be grateful for every day, but once a week is effective as well.
– Notice the words you use when speaking to yourself and others, and choose them carefully. Avoid using toxic words that stimulate negative emotions in you and the listener.
– Express thanks to those who have helped you in both small and large ways. Saying “Thank you” is powerful. Intimate relationships are proven to thrive when partners express gratitude to each other. Dr. Emmons says that writing it down in a card or letter can be even more advantageous.
– Give back. Charitable giving is a win-win. The giver receives a sense of purpose, joy and connection.
Thanksgiving is a great time to start a gratitude journal for yourself, with your family, in a classroom, or with friends. I’m grateful to you for taking the time to read this today.
Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org