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Why Gratitude is Critical

“It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment.”

Naomi Williams

baby clasping hands

This is typically the season where we focus on gratitude for what we have in relation to health, family, friends, material wealth, and experiences.  If nothing else, the year 2020 has demanded that we take stock of our gratitude inventories and re-evaluate what is important to us, acknowledge what we do have, and what is currently going well during these tumultuous times.  We tend to designate gratitude to one day a year, and yet, gratitude is the key to turning mindsets, physical health, and subsequently lives, around for the better.

The act of gratitude can be exemplified in the form of prayer, homework assignments around Thanksgiving, following events where gifts are given, or as a polite gesture after walking through a door held by a passing stranger.  Gratitude is so much more.  It is a tool to lift our spirits, to help us persevere through stressful times, and it has the power to affect the world in a positive manner, even if that world is your personal one.

Gratitude is not only an expression of thanks.  It is a feeling.  It is a powerful, positive, regenerative feeling that springs from the depths within.  Daily stressors deplete our emotional spending accounts.  You wake up in the morning dispensing emotional coins for things such as a late alarm, spilled milk, lost hours of sleep overnight, a missing assignment, etc.  There are ways to replenish our emotional bank accounts and gratitude is one of them.  Gratitude is a powerful tool that follows you wherever you go and you do not need an internet connection, a charged battery, a large amount of slotted time, or a debit card.  You may just need a reminder to actually do it.  In that case, I highly recommend setting a timer on your phone that will gently provide a friendly reminder to take a minute and think of something or someone that you are grateful for.  You can do this activity as many or as few times as you want.  The key is to elicit the thought and/or image of appreciation and to engage your emotional system in feeling the gratitude, in an effort to combine both elements.  It is not just the lip service, it is about putting your money where your mouth is to reap the neurochemical benefits; you have to actually do it.  State the appreciated “thing” and feel why you are grateful for it.  There are no right or wrong answers; nothing is too big or too small to be grateful for.  What you do want to do is state what you are grateful for and why it makes you feel gratitude.  For example, you can feel grateful for a hot cup of coffee; how the warmth of the drink warms your insides, how you enjoy it first thing in the morning when everyone is sleeping and there is a palpable peacefulness, how it gives you an opportunity to start your day right, how you enjoy the aroma, how you enjoy the taste, or how you enjoy it in your favorite mug, etc.  Milk the reasons that it sparks your appreciation.  The longer you can stretch out the feeling, the more you reap the benefits of gratitude.  Gratitude has been scientifically proven to increase physical health, emotional health in decreasing feelings of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, improved relationships, improved overall well – being, and productivity at work, to name a few.

Other strategies for increasing opportunities for gratitude include the following.

  • Keeping a gratitude journal, as writing helps focus the mind and can allow opportunities to expand on the intricacies for the appreciated thought. 
  • Starting a gratitude circle: start a text thread or email group with like minded friends and inspire each other to find gratitude in the mundane.   
  • Create a gratitude board and place pictures o people, things, places, or experiences that you are grateful for and hang it somewhere you will look at every day.
  • At dinner or bedtime, encourage your child(ren) to state something of appreciation and why it makes them feel that way. 
  • Wear a bracelet with a certain amount of charms on it and state something that you are grateful for each charm.
  • Say thank you when appropriate or compliment a stranger, as you would be appreciating something about them, either an act or something that they have. 
  • Acknowledge positive behaviors in others, especially children.
  • Write a thank you letter a week to someone.  Tell them how lucky you are to have them in your life or let them know what a great job they are doing in something.  Check out the book, A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik

Adults model gratitude and appreciation in an effort to create grateful children.  They see the context of our actions.  Children do not learn to be grateful kids by being told how they should act.  Be the change.  If you want your children to be grateful, show them how to do it.  Start your day with gratitude and/or end your day with it.  Allow your brain to marinate in the positive brain juices of gratitude, as you drift off to sleep.  You will see the benefits by how you wake the next morning.   

This practice of gratitude is just that; a practice.  The more you put into it, the more you get out of it, and you will be amazed at the significant changes that it can elicit.  What is even more amazing is that even if you alone do this practice, the changes from within you will radiate out and become contagious to others that surround you.

Let us know how you show gratitude and share with us how this simple practice has changed your life. 

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