The attitude of gratitude affects more than just turning the frown upside down. Research suggests people who are optimistic and practice gratitude even have higher functioning immune systems, lower blood pressure and sleep better according to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis.
Another study done out of the School of Medicine at University of California San Diego found those grateful attitudes also happened to have better heart health that included less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms. Again, this study showed better sleep.
In fact, studies of those who kept a gratitude journal showed reduced fat intake through the diet as well as lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Science has also shown it can reduce the effects of aging on the brain.
What’s more is gratitude is an antidote to anxiety. Dopamine and serotonin increase when gratitude brain circuits are activated which acts like a natural antidepressant.
Whoa! So why aren’t we more grateful?
What’s interesting is that it’s actually harder for our brains to focus on gratitude. In fact, our brains have been hardwired to focus on danger and things that are potentially negative. That’s part of why many folks use the phrase “practice gratitude.”
Because it takes practice to see things from the gratitude perspective.
One study matched gratitude practices with brain imaging and showed the more gratitude work folks did, the more activity showed up in the scan in that region of the brain. Ultimately, gratitude was shown to be a specific emotion as one that can be “exercised” to grow.
One small way you can try to incorporate gratitude is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Taking just five minutes before you go to bed to think of three things you’re grateful for can begin to rewire those rigid neuropathways in the brain. The more we practice gratitude, the more our brain will notice things to be grateful for. So, try doing it for just one week.
Another way to practice gratitude is to take advantage at meal times to go around the table to say just one thing you’re grateful for with your family.
Finally, a gratitude assessment is one approach Darren Hardy presents in his book “The Compound Effect.” His idea is for you to come up with three things about the most important subjects in your life you can be grateful for. Those topics include your life, your health, your work, your home, your experiences and times you’ve been “lucky.”
As we continue into the holiday season, why not give one or all of these practices a try? Don’t forget to print this worksheet out and do it with your framily over the holidays!