In a world of more, more, more, along with the ease and luxuries of modern life, it can be easy to lose sight of what we have and focus on what we lack.
We don’t always appreciate the “little” things that make everyday life today so much easier. Hot showers, indoor plumbing, a roof over our heads, a soft bed… and even Google Maps. So many things we easily overlook and take for granted until we lose it – or are faced with the potential of not having it.
We live in the Bay Area and last month, we faced potentially losing power twice due to planned power shut-offs to prevent more wildfires. In anticipation of these potential outages, all the things we do that require electricity flooded my mind. These basics – the little things – have become a normal part of our daily lives that we stop thinking about them. But take them away and boy, would it hurt.
There are also those “bigger” things in our lives. You know … the job promotion with that pay bump we’ve been seeking, or that house with a backyard and more square footage. We all have it – this yearning for that next thing, level, achievement – and thinking that if we attain them, we’d be good – happier.
Then, we get that promotion, finally become homeowners or upgrade our home. At first, the newness of that achievement is thrilling. We’re glowing. Then after some time, that excitement plateaus for us and the glamour and promise that thing offered in our mind fades away and we forget and proceed to wanting the next thing… more.
We’re left in a state of never being satisfied or content.
While striving to improve ourselves and our situation has its place, the constant fixation on striving for the next big thing without pausing to see what we’ve achieved or already have can be tiring and a mental trap. And, it can cause us to miss out on realizing how good we might actually have it already.
Left unchecked, it can be quite the happiness killer.
In the most basic terms, gratitude is thankfulness. It’s paying attention to and appreciating the good in our lives – focusing on what we have, rather than what we lack.
Big and small – it’s important that we take the time to appreciate all the good in our lives – noticing, acknowledging and appreciating.
You’ve probably heard that gratitude is beneficial for your mental well-being – that regularly expressing gratitude leads to increased happiness and optimism. It also improves your relationships. Thinking of the different things you’re thankful for about your partner, for instance, helps you feel more positively about them.
But did you know that being grateful also leads to better health?
Aside from improving one’s psychological and emotional well-being, a growing amount of research shows it does the body good too.
Being Grateful = A Healthier You
Here are a few notable ways practicing gratitude can improve your health:
- Sleep better: One study found that participants who jotted down things they were grateful for were able to fall asleep more quickly, slept longer, reported having better sleep quality and were able to stay awake during the day more easily.
- Take care of your heart: Several studies now also show that practicing gratitude might actually improve overall heart health. One study found that gratitude journaling has reduced inflammation in its participants. Another suggests that positive emotions – feeling grateful – can be beneficial in treating hypertension. And another found that women who kept gratitude journals for two weeks resulted in better sleep quality and lower blood pressure.
- Have a healthier lifestyle: Studies have found participants who practice gratitude exercise more often, are more likely to follow doctors’ orders and go to regular check-ups compared with those who don’t.
While more research needs to be done, the findings so far look promising.
2 Birds, 1 Stone: Start Cultivating Gratitude and Improve Your Health
In our fast-paced lifestyle today, many of us feel we don’t have the time to pause. Feeling strapped for time, we just keep moving forward and striving for more. Probably because we’re worried that if we stop, we’ll fall behind.
But it is so important that we take the time to reflect on our present so we can experience and appreciate it.
So, this month, let’s start doing just that.
Let’s pause to be thankful for the good things – big and little – that have come into our lives.
Here are 3 simple ways you can cultivate gratitude in your daily life. Pick one that best suits you:
If You’re Not the Journaling or Writing Type
If writing is not your cup of tea and journaling scares you, or perhaps life is simply crazy hectic right now and you only have 1-3 minutes to spare each day, this one will be a good option for you.
Every morning, while you’re enjoying your coffee or tea (or breakfast smoothie), take some time (just 1-3 minutes) to pause and think of something you’re grateful for. Simply make a mental note of what or who you’re thankful for and why.
Starting your day with gratitude can improve your outlook, making you feel more positive about yourself and your situation, which can trickle down to the rest of your day.
If You Do Like Journaling and Have More Time to Spare
Now, if you’ve got a little more time to commit and are comfortable writing, then try this.
Start a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Simply use a notebook you’ve got lying around (or buy a cheap one). You can also do this digitally, if you prefer. Whatever works for you, just as long as you do it.
About one to three times per week for the rest of the month, spend about 10-15 minutes reflecting and writing down (or typing) three to five things you are thankful for.
It can be anything you like. It can be something significant, like a positive evaluation you received at work. Or, it can be something as simple as a big smile and hug you got from your child when you picked them up from school or the quiet morning time you had to read a book. The important thing is that you take the time to remember the good thing, event, person, in your life and appreciate it. And, that you are specific in what you are thankful for.
You might be wondering… why not do this everyday?
Well, according to some research, this frequency (one to three times a week) may actually have greater impact on your happiness than doing so every day.
If You Want to Make it a Family Affair
Finally, if you want to get the whole family involved, great! This is an awesome way to connect with your family, while building everyone’s gratitude habit.
During dinner time, simply go around the table and have each person share something they’re thankful for.
You can start with how everyone’s day went and moving onto what one’s grateful for. Again, it can be anything, just as long as each family member is specific what it is they’re thankful for and varies it up each day.
If you still have a little one, like we do, that’s okay. They can just watch and listen to the conversation. I bet they’ll enjoy just being a part of the lively chatter taking place at the dinner table.
If schedules conflict and meal times are not ideal to do this, find a time that works for your family. You can try it around bedtime when you’re tucking kids into bed, or during morning drop-offs to school.
So, what’ll it be?
Pick one gratitude practice that works best for you. And, don’t forget to do it by setting a recurring reminder on your phone.
As the holiday season approaches and we start reflecting back on our year, we’ll get excited to start planning what we will do next or differently in the new year.
But before we go about making resolutions for next year, let’s pause to note and appreciate what we currently have and celebrate our wins. Looking back is essential in making meaningful forward progress.
So this month, take note and stock of the good things in your life – big and small – and reap the benefits of feeling happier, getting better sleep and improving your heart health.
And when Thanksgiving hits, feel free to eat that extra serving of turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes guilt-free – and let the heart-healthy effects of the gratitude habit take care of that for you. 😉