Google defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”... but it’s so much more than that.
Research confirms that when we practice gratitude, it helps us to feel happier, enjoy positive experiences more deeply, and build stronger relationships. And, according to previous YOPN Guest Speaker Linda Burton, practicing gratitude may have a strong neurological impact on us, too.
Whether you’re expressing appreciation for your Care Partner or silently thanking the universe for another beautiful day, those little actions cause your brain stem to release dopamine — a chemical that makes us feel good, and triggers positive emotions.
When you journal or reflect about things in your life for which you are grateful, your brain also releases serotonin — a mood-enhancer that boosts our willpower and motivation.
The more often we take actions that release these chemicals (in other words, the more often we practice gratitude), the more we’ll start to notice and focus on the good things instead of the bad. The benefits (according to this study) of that shift in focus are profound:
● Less exhaustion
● Less cynicism
● More proactive behaviors
● Higher job satisfaction
● Fewer absences due to illness
Who wouldn’t want all of that? Now that we have an idea of the kind of impact gratitude can have on our lives, here are five ways you can start practicing:
1. Show Appreciation for Your Care Partner Take some time to write a little thank you note for all they do, or randomly surprise them with their go-to Starbucks order. Not only will it brighten their day, but it will also have positive physical and mental impacts on you, too!
2. Take Stock of Your 5 Senses Sit quietly wherever you are and identify one thing you can see, one you can hear, one you can touch, one you can taste, and one you can smell that you’re grateful for in that moment. This is also a great grounding exercise that can help ease anxiety.
3. Make a List of the Little Things All too often, we tend to focus so much on the big things that we forget to “stop and smell the roses.” A great way to practice gratitude is to make a list of seemingly insignificant things you experienced during your day (like how nice the breeze felt earlier, or a nice conversation you had with a friend), and read over it when you’re finished. You might find that those things aren’t so insignificant, after all.
4. Give Back A quick and easy way to get yourself into a more grateful mindset is to give back to someone or something who has helped you. This could be anything from sending your neurologist flowers to making a donation to an organization like YOPN.
5. Make Time to Be Present Being present in the moment is key to practicing gratitude and reaping the benefits. Pausing and savoring the moment, no matter how big or small, is great practice. If you’re not sure how to become more present, meditation can be a wonderful tool to help you learn.