A practice of gratitude

Article written by Mary Metten, Health and Well-being Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

Thinking back to a movie I watched a lot with my brother as kids, Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

All at once, it is somehow already and finally the middle of November. As the year has progressed, there isn’t much that’s happened according to anyone’s plan for 2020, me included. While we’ve altered, adapted, moved, and transformed many aspects of life, it’s been easy to become swept up in this specific type of chaos.

In our current time, although really all the time, we want to focus on maintaining and developing healthy coping skills. I’d like to posit the notion of practicing gratitude.

Defining gratitude

Gratitude is a quality of being thankful and readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California Davis describes gratitude as an affirmation of goodness and recognition that sources of goodness are often outside of ourselves.

These defining words are simply stated, yet it can be tricky to center gratitude when there is a lot of tumultuousness swirling around. Feeling and expressing gratitude when something significant occurs is a very natural tendency; however, it really does not and should not be relegated to those big instances. Regularly noticing and expressing gratitude can help us all.

Benefits of gratitude

Research indicates that practicing gratitude proves as a reliable method to increase happiness and life satisfaction. Additional research suggests regular use of gratitude enhances several health factors, including strengthened immune system, lowering blood pressure, reduced symptoms of illness, and better sleep.

Within the brain, there are links between gratitude and brain structures tied to social bonding, building connection, reward, and stress relief. Some studies have found a connection between the tendency to feel grateful and oxytocin, a hormone that promotes well-being.

Gratitude in action

Practicing gratitude is just that, a practice, meaning it should be an ever-changing and evolving creation of habits and honing skills. Think of it as building muscle; you’re stronger and find it easier to complete the more often you engage in the practice.

A few ways to practice gratitude:

Journaling — Daily writing can help as a physical reminder to build the habit and reflect on everyday things you’re grateful for. This does not need to be a ‘Dear Diary’ type of entry; it can be as simple as jotting down notes and thoughts of gratitude in small doses.

Living in the moment — allow your five senses to guide you through gratitude. Noticing things through different senses can help connect the practice with your body and the present moment.

Expression with others — share gratitude with people around you, when you appreciate someone’s action, relationship, or assistance. The communication will bring benefits to you and the other person.

These options are not exhaustive when we think of how to integrate gratitude into our lives. Lean into natural tendencies and your imagination to build small doses of gratitude into your every day.

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