Want to feel happier in general? Or improve your social and emotional communication with other people? Or just be an awesome person to be around? Start practicing gratitude daily and you will get all the benefits listed above!
So what’s being grateful all about? And why should you practice it-daily(?!)
Gratitude makes us happier
Nowadays, there’s a ton of research showing that gratitude has numerous health and mental benefits. The best thing is, studies also show that being grateful is trainable! So even the most grumpy person can boost his/her gratitude circuits in the brain. They say gratitude is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets.
In brain scans, they can see the pathways that are associated with gratitude. People who meditate, or train in becoming more grateful, have stronger connections in those pathways.
Four basic emotions
According to The Book Of Joy, by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, there are four basic emotions. Of those four, three are negative and only one is positive.
Needless to say, gratitude falls under the positive category. We know that we can improve our gratitude pathways in the brain by doing it. So this is an easy way to balance the scales in favor of the positive side.
In the same book, they talk about ‘the eight pillars of joy’. Guess what’s one of those pillars? Yep, that’s right. Being grateful.
Be happier with less
As you keep practicing and improving, you’ll start noticing smaller and smaller things that you’re grateful for. Things, situations, or connections you did not notice before.
This simply means that you have more appreciation for your life on a daily basis. You’ll be more present and have warmer emotions.
The nun study
I had to share this study. It absolutely emphasizes the importance of a positive attitude in life.
Studying nuns has some advantages over a ‘normal population’. Because nuns all have a very similar lifestyle, it is easier and safer to extract results. In a normal study, you never have control over all the variables that could impact the results. Food intake, smoking, activity level, environment, and genetics are all important factors that have a big impact on the participants in a study.
With nuns, at least some of those variables are the same. They live in the same environment, eat the same food, and have a very similar activity level. This study is still going on today and started more than 30 years ago. So far, some interesting things have been found.
Before the girls entered to become nuns, they wrote an autobiography (their average age was 22). Researchers divided those essays according to the emotional tone (positive, neutral or negative). Then they related those autobiographies with survival between ages 75-95.
They found some astounding results. There was a strong inverse association between the emotional tone of their writings and mortality at high age. This basically means that the more positive their work, the lower their mortality rates became! There was a 2.5-fold difference in mortality between the lowest and highest emotional expression. Furthermore, in the group with the most positive nuns, 23% had died at follow-up. In the group with the least positive nuns, on average 58% (!!) of the group had died.
Yes, you read that right. Being positive improves your chance of reaching a high age!
How to be grateful
There are different ways to practice this skill. A very effective way is to keep a journal. Make it a habit to write 3 things that you’re grateful for, each day. Only 2 minutes a day to add some years to your life. Fair deal, I think?
Another fun way to practice this skill I picked up from Tara Brach. She’s a psychologist, author and teacher of meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. She calls it the gratitude countdown. You can do it with a buddy or on your own. When your buddy says, “gratitude countdown!”, you have to immediately say 10 things that you’re grateful for. Of course, you can adjust the rules of the game however you want.
It can be hard to find things at first. Remember, everybody is different. There are no rules. As long as you feel grateful for it, write it down or say it. You can start with general things. However, it’s more effective if you are specific. This helps you discover new things that you’re grateful for.
The Daily Gratitude
To help you on your journey, I have added a new part to the blog called ‘The Daily Gratitude‘. Daily, I will post 5 things that I’m grateful for. You can post your 5 things in the comments, so we can grow together towards a better version of ourselves!
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