By: Nancy Nekonejad
Nancy Nekonejad is a pharmacist with a doctorate degree from the University of Southern California. As an avid health advocate, her philosophy of wellness is to nourish not only the body, but also the mind and spirit so as to create an inner system of balance. Here, she writes about the importance of practicing gratitude.
Most of us have an arsenal of mantras that are ready to use when the going gets tough. But there is an even better mantra that can improve your level of happiness and everyone can benefit from it: "Gratitude is the new attitude.” This simple phrase has infinite potential for positivity in your daily life.
Is gratitude an emotion? Is it a feeling? Indeed, it is all those things and more. Simply put, gratitude is a state of conscious appreciation for what one has. It is mindful and thankful recognition independent of a particular outcome or desired result. While being grateful can be a feeling of happiness in a moment, gratitude is a constant state of being.
So, why is gratitude a trending topic now? For starters, gratitude has been a heavily researched topic for decades. With all of this extensive research has come insight into some of the considerable emotional, social and health benefits of practicing gratitude. Here’s what we’ve learned from more than 40 research studies on the subject.
Common adult scenario: You are yawning all day at work and as soon as you have that long-awaited moment with your fancy mattress, you can’t fall asleep. Thinking about what you must do tomorrow, what you didn’t get to finish today and so on. All these thoughts create stress which keeps us awake. Instead, try reflecting on the positive aspects of your day with a sense of gratitude and appreciation. This will produce a relaxation response in your body promoting better sleep quality, not to mention falling asleep quicker. Start going through a list of all that you feel grateful for in your head, before long you will feel calm and ready to dream.
During stressful times, our brains release the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol can create a cascade of negative effects on the body and its overall wellbeing. While stress can disrupt the body’s normal functioning, positive thoughts activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates a healthy environment for your body to thrive. Studies have shown that gratitude and spiritual wellbeing can lower stress, leading to decreased cortisol levels. With lower cortisol levels, we have a more healthy and strong immune system to protect us.
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An optimally functioning body and a healthy mind create more energy for you. Two studies with more than 1,900 participants found that a strong correlation exists between practicing gratitude and vitality.
Probably the most significant benefits of gratitude are within the category of emotional health and wellbeing. In fact, there is a real science behind it! Gratitude has been shown to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. With higher levels of dopamine, we experience higher levels of happiness, concentration, memory and better quality of sleep. Dopamine can bring about an invigorating and energizing mood. Practicing daily gratitude can help us achieve more of the “good” feelings and help us detach from toxic emotions such as envy, resentment and even materialism. Feeling less envious can boost our self-esteem, creating a place of mental peace and in turn positively impact how we feel about ourselves. What happens when we feel better about ourselves? We strengthen our social circles! Gratitude can help us become kinder, friendlier and more loving in all our relationships, whether they are platonic or romantic. With improved self-esteem and relationships, we can reach increased productivity at work and goal achievement in our career life. As you spend time consciously recognizing what you are grateful for, you are literally rewiring your brain – redirecting it towards feeling happy.
Keep a gratitude journal. Whether daily or even weekly, write about the things, people or situations for which you feel grateful. Read your journal often to remind yourself of this positivity!
Count your blessings. Literally. Either at the start or end of your day, say aloud or write a few things you are thankful for. They can be big or small, significant or insignificant.
Recognize and focus on those that have done good on your behalf. Consider sending them a letter of gratitude or a thank you note. Give back to these lovely souls and keep the cycle of gratitude flowing.
Smile and say thank you.Express your thanks with sincerity.
Think about the simple things. Take a moment to think about the things we sometimes take for granted and how our lives would change without them. For example, have you ever closed your eyes for a few minutes and tried to do an activity? Taking some time to imagine life without one of our five senses can be deeply humbling and create a profound sense of gratitude.
Immerse yourself in nature. Go for a walk or hike and pay particular attention to the details of nature. The sky, the stars, the moon, flowers, trees, they are all magnificent creations that exist for us to admire.
Thoughts become things; what we think about we bring about and appreciation is a magnet for more. As you appreciate what you already have, you will attract more of what you want. We are all going through our personal struggles – losing jobs, overcoming break-ups and fighting illnesses are examples. In these moments, many of our qualities are being tested. It is far easier to let the negative emotions and pessimism run wild. Another approach, however, is to imagine and visualize. See resolutions, perseverance and success within these challenging times. Train your mind to be grateful – even when things may seem unbearable. Practicing gratitude emits powerful frequencies into the universe. Fill yourself with love and kindness, the magic will flow.