With the amount of stress that this current season has thrown at us, we can find ourselves working hard to simply keep our heads above the water. The challenges of each new day can demand all of our time and energy. We may fear that if we stop kicking, we will sink. No matter the season, however, we can implement habits that benefit us. One simple habit that can yield a lot of good is the practice of gratitude. Naming the people and things we are thankful for can have a transforming effect on our state of mind as well as on our physical health.
How Gratitude Affects Your Mental Health
For years, studies have shown that practicing gratitude can benefit mental and emotional health. Gratitude can reduce stress, help people overcome trauma, and increase resilience. Psychotherapist Amy Morin says, “Gratitude increases mental strength.” Gratitude is such a simple exercise that can be practiced in any moment of any season, good or bad. But it doesn’t come naturally for all of us. Practicing gratitude must be done on purpose. And research shows it can be worth it. As Morin says, “Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times—fosters resilience.”
In addition, gratitude is linked with greater happiness. When we remember the gifts in our lives—the good things and the people who have made a difference—we change the way we think. Many things can be true all at once. For instance, a person could suffer from a debilitating illness while also having a safe, comfortable home and a strong support network at the same time. The suffering caused by the illness is true. And the reality of the good home and gift of support is also true. The good is no less true than the bad. Acknowledging the bad while giving thanks for the good can help develop a sense of reality that includes the truth of goodness even in the midst of difficulty. Paying attention to the gifts in our lives can foster positive emotions and better mental health over time.
How Gratitude Affects Your Physical Health
Greater happiness and a stronger mind can affect physical health. “Gratitude…can be an incredibly powerful and invigorating experience,” says researcher Jeff Huffman. “There is growing evidence that being grateful may not only bring good feelings. It could lead to better health.” The more we learn about how our minds and bodies relate to each other, the easier it is to connect mental and physical health.
Studies are beginning to demonstrate this connection. Huffman researched how the practice of gratitude aided in the recovery of heart-attack patients. Other research conducted by the Greater Good Science Center shows that participants who kept a gratitude journal for merely two weeks “reported better physical health, including fewer headaches, less stomach pain, clearer skin, and reduced congestion.” With growing evidence in favor of the beneficial effects of gratitude on health, it sure seems worth a try.
Practices of Gratitude
So how do we practice gratitude? Healthbeat, a publication of Harvard Medical School, describes various ways that people can express gratitude. We can look to the past—even as far back as childhood—and recall memories or blessings we are thankful for. We can pay attention to the present and notice the goodness in each day, rather than taking it for granted. And we can look to the future with hope. Maybe most importantly, we can recognize that the practice of gratitude is something we can grow and develop over time.
Here are a few simple ways to practice gratitude regularly:
Remember your day. At the end of each day, take a moment to sit quietly and recall moments you feel thankful for.
Keep a weekly journal. If daily reflection feels like too much, take a moment once each week to record people, experiences, and things that you are grateful for from that week.
Write letters. As you practice gratitude, individual people may come to mind. Take some time to write them a note telling them how they impacted you and why you are thankful for them.
Say thank you. It’s basic for a reason. When someone does something kind for you or gives you a gift, say “thank you.” Pausing to notice the gift of the moment benefits you and acknowledges the giver.
Whether you’ve been practicing gratitude for years or are getting ready to start small, you will enjoy the many benefits of thankfulness, no matter the season of life you’re in.
The Cedars Retirement Community
The Cedars Retirement Community is a beautiful lakeside retirement residence located just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Cedars believes in providing the highest quality of life and opportunity for seniors. We are operating with great care during this pandemic and are following all guidelines issued by the CDC and ISDH. Please contact us with any questions you may have.