An Attitude of Gratitude
While it’s certainly good to have an annual holiday to remind us to express gratitude, there’s much to be said for the benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratitude year-round. Happy Christmas in July!
People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress and have more positive emotions. They are also better able to achieve their goals. Scientists have even noted that gratitude is associated with improved health.
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.
People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.
Gratitude — It Does a Body Good
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center once stated that: “If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”
Mood neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine)
Inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines)
Reproductive hormones (testosterone)
Stress hormones (cortisol)
Social bonding hormones (oxytocin)
Blood pressure and cardiac and EEG rhythms
Cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine)
Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
Cultivating a sense of gratitude will help you refocus your attention toward what’s good and right in your life, rather than dwelling on the things you may feel are lacking. Moreover, like a muscle, this mental state can be strengthened with practice. Besides keeping a daily gratitude journal, other ways to cultivate a sense of gratitude include:
Write thank-you notes: Whether in response to a gift or kind act or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life, getting into the habit of writing thank-you letters can help you express gratitude in addition to simply feeling it inside.
Count your blessings: Once a week, reflect on events for which you are grateful and write them down. As you do, feel the sensations of happiness and thankfulness you felt at the time it happened, going over it again in your mind.
Pray: Expressing thanks during your prayers is another way to cultivate gratitude.
Mindfulness meditation: Practicing “mindfulness” means that you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. A mantra is sometimes used to help maintain focus, but you can also focus on something that you’re grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze, or a lovely memory.