As we enter the holiday season in a time of rising COVID cases across the world, you might be experiencing feelings of sadness or anxiety. One aspect of this season that can help lift the spirits is expressing gratitude.
I'm sure you've heard that gratitude provides benefits for mental and physical health. Grateful people experience benefits such as improved sleep, enhanced relationships, motivation to exercise, and more positive emotions like happiness.
What you might not be as familiar with is why this is, and how to cultivate more gratitude in your life.
In one study, participants were given a scenario in which a stranger does a kind act for them. They were asked how much gratitude they felt, and their brain activity was measured in that moment using brain imaging techniques. When participants reported feelings of gratitude, "their brains showed activity in a set of regions located in the medial pre-frontal cortex, an area of the brain that is massively connected to the systems in the body and brain that regulate emotion and support the process of stress relief." You can read more about this study in the Greater Good Magazine article, What Can the Brain Reveal about Gratitude?
In the words of Melody Beattie, "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."
Part of the magic of gratitude is that is can help you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack - cultivating an abundance mindset. This mindset can grow stronger with practice.
Harvard Healthbeat provides great suggestions for cultivating gratitude on a regular basis:
Write a thank-you note - send a letter, or better yet, deliver and read it in person
Thank someone mentally - if you don't have time to write, think about a person who did something nice for you and mentally thank the individual
Keep a gratitude journal - write down what you're grateful for or share with a loved one each day
Count your blessings - pick a time each week to reflect on what went right
Meditate - focus on either the present moment, a word or phrase, or on what you're grateful for
I hope this helps get you started on a path to increased gratitude and happiness!