When you are going through a difficult time, gratitude is the last thing you think of. Being grateful, however, is one of the keys to being happy. Happiness is ultimately what everyone seeks.
There’s more to gratitude than being thankful for than getting the things you want out of life. You may even have everything you want and you are still not happy. Let’s explore gratitude, how it can improve your life, and how you can start practicing gratitude every day.
What is Gratitude?
According to the dictionary, Gratitude is the state of being grateful or thankful. The word gratitude has its roots from the Latin word gratia which means grace, gratefulness or graciousness. How you interpret gratia depends on the context, but gratitude encompasses all of these things.
When we think of gratitude, we think about the acknowledgment of the things in our lives we are thankful for.
Gratitude is not only being grateful for the things in your life but being grateful for the gifts the universe or your higher power has given you.
What that means is there are a lot of things to be grateful for. It takes mindfulness to be aware of what’s going on around you and to notice the little things.
When you go for a walk, for instance, notice the cool breeze brushing against your face. Notice the sky, is it gray or bright blue? Are there clouds? Do you hear the birds singing? Are they flying or on the ground foraging for food?
Mindfulness allows you to be grateful for the little things that you notice. It has nothing to do with what you have, or what you do.
You are grateful for the long deep breath you take during meditation or the heavy rainfall because it replenishes the earth.
You are thankful for the good that happens in your life.
Why You Should Practice Gratitude
The benefits of gratitude can go well beyond the initial feeling. Studies are showing that gratitude has a connection with your sense of wellbeing.
Through studies, science is starting to understand the relationship between the brain and gratitude. Results can vary, partially due to the different levels of gratefulness, everyone tends to feel.
Researchers have found that gratitude that results from gifts falls into two criteria. First, does the person perceive the gift as a genuine effort from the giver and second, does the recipient find the gift valuable and does it fulfill a need?
The upside of being grateful
In other words, gifts are valued by the genuineness of the gift and its worth to the receiver.
UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center has found that when you regularly express gratitude it changes the molecular structure of the brain (literally).
In one study the researchers looked at the brain in relation to moral sentiments. They found through MRI’s that those who had feelings of gratitude tended to have more grey matter in the critical areas of the brain that react to moral sentiment or pleasure.
When feelings of gratitude are expressed and received, the brain releases dopamine and serotonin the two neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good. When you consciously practice gratitude, it can change your neural pathways and you have a permanent feeling of happiness and positivity.
Practicing gratitude is not only good for your mind, but it’s also good for your body. Researchers at the National Institute for Health (NIH), found that gratitude triggers higher activity levels in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for a lot of our essential body functions including body temperature, thirst, fatigue, and sleep and plays a large role in metabolism and stress.
This is significant because the relationship between the body and brain become a great deal clearer. What you think and feel may have a lot to do with your physical health.
Gratitude is a major component of happiness.
How to Practice Gratitude
There are many ways that you can practice gratitude. You can begin by reflecting on the things that life has given you.
- Your baby’s laughter
- The sound of the waves crashing on the beach
- The food you prepare for your family, view our article on mindful eating
- The roof that you live under
- The job that pays your bills
- The inspiring message you hear at church
- Your best friend
- Your family
Here are some ways to continue practicing gratitude:
Probably one of the most common ways to start a practice of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. In a 2003 study by Emmons & McCullough the researchers found that participants who kept a journal reflecting their gratitude not only exercised more, they were optimistic and felt better about their lives in general. All you need is a notebook and a pen!
Acts of Kindness
The car manufacturer Honda recognizes this by running the “Random acts of helpfulness” campaign. Their commercials consist of Honda employees helping someone get something they need (like a new air conditioner).
You, of course, don’t have to go that far but you can incorporate an act of kindness into each day by:
- Giving someone a hug when they are feeling down
- Saying hi to someone you’ve never talked to before
- Open the door for someone older
- Help a homeless person with a meal
There are lots of small things you can do as an act of kindness if you look for them. They don’t have to be huge or expensive. Little things count.
Smile More Often
Never underestimate the power of a smile. A smile can not only be contagious, but it makes you and the person you smile at feel good. You don’t even have to know the person you are smiling at. So, go ahead, make a stranger’s day!
Volunteer for an organization that helps people. Not only will you be helping the organization and those who depend on it, but you will also be helping yourself. When you talk to people who may not have it as fortunate as you do, you learn to appreciate what you have. You also learn to admire the people you are helping because they have a positive attitude despite their adversities.
Give People Recognition
When you’re at work and someone does a good job, let them know it. You are not only giving them praise, but you are validating the good work they did.
Think of Others
Think about the people who serve you each day such as a salesclerk, a bus driver, a waitress or the gas station attendant. Don’t forget to say thank you or tell them they are doing a wonderful job.
Look at the Positive Side of Challenges
We all have challenges in our life. Most of the time we choose to see them in a negative light. Look back at your challenges and examine how they created changes in your life that were positive by making you the person you are today. Then you can be grateful for those challenges.
Express your Gratitude
Tell someone you care about how grateful you are to have them in your life. In the Science of Happiness Experiment participants were asked to write a letter and/or call a loved one and express their gratitude to the person.
Those who wrote a letter increased their happiness level between 2-4%. Those who made an actual phone call to the person they were thinking of increasing their happiness level between 4-19%!
Gratitude Meditation & Mindfulness
We spend a great deal of time thinking about the past and the future. Mindfulness teaches you to think about the here and now. We talked briefly about how mindfulness allows you to be grateful. Here is a perfect way to express mindfulness and gratitude by infusing it into your meditation practice to get into the habit of gratitude.
Sit quietly and think about at least 5 things you are grateful for. As you think of each one, picture it in your mind. Doing this every day helps to rewire your brain to be more positive.
Learning to practice gratitude can be life-changing. Not only do you learn to appreciate the things you took for granted before, but you also enhance your happiness and the feeling of wellbeing.
This is due in part, to the fact that your brain changes the more you practice gratitude. Gratitude allows you to break free of selfishness.
Gratitude does not mean you have to receive presents to be happy. Gratitude is about appreciating all the little things that life has to offer and passing that gratitude on to others.
“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy — because we will always want to have something else or something more.” ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
Our mindfulness app, can help you get where you need to be in your meditation practice. There are hundreds of meditations that can help with stress, anxiety, and self-help. If you would like to begin to practice gratitude and live a more positive lifestyle, you can download Mind Tastik in the Apple App Store or Google Play.Tags: gratefulness, gratitude