Resolving to appreciate who you are and what you have now
Happy New Year folks. As January 1st rolls in, it can feel like the world around us is putting the pressure on to reinvent and improve ourselves. Ads for gym memberships and diet plans, stop smoking campaigns, and pushes for new habits are all around. But, while you’ll never hear me argue with establishing a good habit for physical activity or eating thoughtfully, I can’t help but notice that so much of the narrative is around “bettering” ourselves. The problem I see is that when we dive headlong into self-improvement, we sometimes forget that we are enough just as we are. So, this year, as you invest in working toward the best version of yourself, I’d like to encourage you to give credit to the good things you already have, do, and are. Balance out the image of where you want to go with the images of things you’ve already achieved or been given. I’d you haven’t already figured it out, I’m making the argument for including a gratitude practice in your New Year’s resolutions. And if you’re hesitant, I hope this post will give you three strong reasons to give it a shot.
Don’t forget to also check out our social media for some ideas on what a gratitude practice could look like in your life.
What is a gratitude practice?
Practicing gratitude can be done in a myriad of ways. The core element is the expression of thanks for things in your life that have a positive effect on you. The expression of thanks can happen in any number of ways: verbally, in writing, or even through an artistic expression; and can be private or shared, the key is to harness the positive experience we are led to in moments of thanks for the good in our lives.
A note on gratitude
When I talk to people about establishing a gratitude habit, it can often start with push back from the idea that I’m saying we all need to just “look on the bright side” and the hard and painful parts of our lives will just dissolve into thin air. So, I want to start from a place of transparency and tell you that gratitude is not the cure all for dark or heavy feelings. While it will not rid you of the pain or difficulty life can bring, what it can do is refocus our frame of view to bring us into a more balanced perspective. It can help us view the world for all its extraordinary complexity, not just coloring our perspective with the things that have gone wrong or the things that aren’t quite what we want them to be yet, but also rounding out our point of view with attention to the beauty and good things around us as well. Then, with this balance, we can ultimately hope to feel a little lighter than we did under the weight of the heaviest parts of life alone.
How much time do I need to invest?
Great news on this one, even a moment of gratitude can have benefits. There is virtually no floor to the amount of time that is helpful when spent in gratitude. The key is to do it and do it regularly.
Why should I make it a habit?
I’ve mentioned it before but it’s in my nature to be a bit of a skeptic when exposed to new things. Maybe it’s in the interest of conserving energy or maybe it’s my focus on how precious our time is and my desire to spend that time wisely, but I can be a tough sell when it comes to forming new habits. So, with that in mind, I want to give you three solid research-based reasons to invest your time and energy in gratitude in 2024. And hopefully your own experience will be justification enough to continue for years to come.
While the first benefit is the most obvious, it’s also one of the most researched as well. The effect of gratitude on our mental health have been studied through a multitude of lenses and the research continues to demonstrate that this habit can elevate mood, boost resiliency, and improve sleep. Here are just a few examples:
- Gratitude has been linked to a reduction in potentially harmful emotions like envy, resentment, frustration, and regret
- Gratitude has been connected to higher levels of self-esteem in athletes and has been shown to correlate to a decrease in social comparison
- 15 minutes of nightly gratitude journaling consistently led to better sleep quality and quantity in one study out of Applied Psychology
- Gratitude has also been linked to resilience in Vietnam war veterans and survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks
- Gratitude practices have also been connected to improvements in emotional intelligence, improving our capacity to name and regulate our emotions
- One study even found an increase in resilience to the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic with a regular gratitude practice
The second science-based reason to include a gratitude practice in your daily routine is one that we are understanding more each day. As research demonstrates the connection between mindset and biology, we become more and more aware of the power of our thoughts to influence our immediate and long-term health. While physical activity, sleep and nutrition continue to be incredibly important, so too does our ability to manage stress and the physical and, more specifically, hormonal changes that come with it. Below are some examples of the research findings that support the idea that gratitude can influence and improve not just our mental but our physical health and well-being as well:
- Several studies have demonstrated a positive effect on markers associated with elevated risk for heart disease with employment of a grateful mindset
- Acts of gratitude have been shown to increase release of oxytocin, a hormone that protects us from the harmful effects of stress
- People who consistently practice acts of gratitude have been demonstrated to have fewer aches and pains, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and better markers of heart health.
- Consistent practice of gratitude is linked to consistent maintenance of a healthy Body Mass Index.
- Researchers have found that those who practice gratitude on a regular basis demonstrate better immune function and less frequent illness.
There is a television show I watched not too long ago that contained a line that stuck with me in a deep way. Two of the characters are discussing reasons for living during a dark time in their lives and they are acknowledging the power of bringing joy to someone’s life. In a moment of pure eloquence, one turns to the other and says “that’s the thing about happiness. It’s amazing. It’s so amazing that it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.” Gratitude is no different. The research has shown us that the expression of gratitude benefits not only the person expressing it, but the person receiving it and even those who witness it as well. How beautiful that the benefits of positivity and light are so contagious. So, this final section will give you some of the findings on how gratitude practices improve the health of your social and relationship life, because none of us is really in this alone and we’re all a little better together.
- John and Julie Gottman, renowned relationship researchers, have repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of a five to one ratio in positive interactions to negative ones inside a relationship. Regular expression of gratitude is among the most powerful ways to build a healthy relationship foundation.
- The benefits of giving, receiving, and witnessing gratitude are also applicable in our relationships with our children, helping to build a strong foundational relationship on which we can rely in more challenging moments.
- A 2014 study concluded that demonstrating gratitude with new acquaintances makes a continued relationship more likely, suggesting that gratitude may be helpful in building our social support systems.
- According to a 2012 study out of the university of Kentucky, those who rate higher on the gratitude scale demonstrate prosocial behavior and are less likely to retaliate or show aggression even when faced with criticism. (Who among us is at their best when being criticized?)
As a believer in putting your money where your mouth is, I want to conclude with my own expression of gratitude here for each and every one of you who have given me your time today and in months past. The opportunity to write to you each month keeps me honest and accountable to my own goals of living a healthy life and for that I am deeply grateful. My hope for each of you in 2024 is that you, too, are given the opportunity to be whoever it is you want to be and that you are celebrated for it. And as always, if you want help or support in finding your path, we at Tailored Brain Health would love to be your partner in that journey. Reach out to us at email@example.com or call 336-542-1800 to discuss more.