Gratitude - The First Cousin of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has received a lot of attention recently for its ability to positively change your brain. A related practice, Gratitude has also been shown to produce positive changes. In particular, people who regularly practice gratitude experience significant improvements in several areas of life including relationships, work, academics, health, satisfaction, energy level and even dealing with tragedy and crisis.
The practice of gratitude is relatively simple. Every day you take a couple of minutes for yourself and think about a few things that you are genuinely grateful for. They can be little things like your cup of tea, or big things like a great experience with family or friends. What's important is to really give yourself time to feel the appreciation for the things you're noting. To really soak it in.
It's this process of letting your head and your heart really savor these things that is literally training your brain to see more of the good things in life. It's creating and reinforcing such positive neural pathways.
In many ways the practice of gratitude is like the first cousin of mindfulness. You're taking a moment to put your full attention on something the way you might when using your body or breath in mindfulness meditation. In gratitude, you're then adding the ingredient of really experiencing the appreciation of the things you're greatful for. It's like mindfulness meets love!
Practically speaking, expressing gratitude can be easier than a mindfulness session. In mindfulness, we usually have to find a quite place, sit or lie down, then focus our attention inward. This can be challenging at work when there are many distractions and you may be reluctant to close your eyes at your desk. On the other hand, gratitude simply requires focusing your attention while you think of those things you're grateful for. You can write with a pen and paper or use your computer or phone. For all your coworkers know, you're diligently working away. It will be our little secret. ;)
A 2005 publication "Positive Psychology Progress: Emperical Validation of Interventions" by Seligman et al. in American Psychologist, shows that after only a week of keeping a daily gratitude journal (listing three things you're grateful for and why) that study participants recorded a positive effect on their happiness and decrease in depression all the way up to six months later.
Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is one of the foremost authorities on the topic of gratitude. An example finding from his work:
"In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events." (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)
For something lighter, see the NPR special "The Science of Gratitude" narrated by Susan Sarandon available here.
So how to get started with gratitude? We've got you covered. Try our new gratitude tool here on Moodfit.