Skimming through your social media feeds during the holiday season, especially the week of Thanksgiving, you might think that every one of your peers is constantly brimming with joy and thankfulness due to their countless blessings. But, let’s be honest, this is only a once-annual occurrence for most people. Thanks to the obligatory status updates and bombardment of turkey day marketing, we’re all reminded that it’s time to express our gratitude.
Over-commercialism and Hallmark-ism aside, I think it’s great to have a national holiday in which we are encouraged to be thankful for what we have and those around us. The tradition of sharing this day with family over a large meal is one I truly enjoy (in particular, the socially acceptable binge eating), and I’m sure I’m not the only one that really looks forward to it. However, there is mounting evidence showing that expressing gratitude regularly has a profound impact on overall health and happiness. Perhaps giving thanks should be a daily ritual as opposed to a yearly tradition (minus the food coma).
Not long ago, I had a pretty drastic mindset shift thanks to the wise words of several health and personal development leaders I follow (either through their books or watching them speak live), and I now try to look at gratitude through a different lens. In a nutshell, they helped me realize that it is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy. I believe this also applies to success in life. My prior paradigm was “first I will be successful, then I will be happy, then I will be full of gratitude.” Now, I constantly remind myself of all that I have - all of the people and opportunities in my life - and feel a deep sense of gratitude. Without fail, this brings me a sense of joy no matter how I’m feeling beforehand.
In psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with experiencing more happiness. Gratitude can help you feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, deal with difficulties, and form lasting relationships. Furthermore, focusing on gratitude more often can improve your health in very profound ways. Sustained feelings of gratitude have been found to boost the immune system by producing more Immunoglobulin A (IgA) - pathogen-fighting antibodies. Also, a gratitude practice can cause favorable changes in the body’s biochemistry including improved hormonal balance and an increase of DHEA, the anti-aging hormone.
When practicing gratitude, we should be applying it to our past, present, and future to fully reap the rewards. In regards to our past, we should avoid dwelling on negative experiences and focus on positive memories while being thankful for what we have experienced and acquired. In the present, it is crucial to live in each moment and be grateful as it comes. The book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle does a great job of explaining how profound of an impact living in the present can have on your life. For the future, it is easy to be grateful by thinking of all the great opportunities that lie ahead - hope and optimism can go a long way.
These relatively simple mindset shifts can make a huge impact on your day to day life and the results will compound over time. There are also several tools that can help remind you to be grateful, track your progress, and help take your cultivation of gratitude to the next level. The first is the Five-Minute Journal which is now a crucial part of my morning ritual and bedtime routine. This real-life, paper journal is supposed to be kept by your bedside and should be the first thing you do to start your day with a positive, growth mindset and remind you of what you’re grateful for. It’s also the last thing you should look at before falling asleep, allowing you to reflect on the day and acknowledge what amazing things happened. It’s endorsed by Tim Ferriss and other top performers. According to the makers of the Five-Minute Journal, “the key is consistency” and this little book has proven invaluable in reminding me to feel grateful daily.
Another tool (or more accurately: practice) that I use to help me achieve better health and more happiness by cultivating gratitude is meditation. Specifically, I use the Headspace app which I wrote at length about in a previous article. The mindfulness meditation taught by Headspace encourages the user to focus on the present moment and feelings of gratitude, typically towards loved ones. Most of the exercises have a section in which you focus on how your practice will positively impact those around you. There is even a Headspace “pack” specifically on Appreciation that can really help get you in that mindset for the entire day. For those who are religious and/or have a prayer practice, this can be applied in a very similar way.
Another tool that can be used to actually monitor and control your Heart Rate Variability (see graphs below) is the emWave by HeartMath. I also wrote about this when I described my bedtime ritual and the significant impact it’s had on my life. Like meditation, it is a great mindfulness and breathing exercise, but it is paired with technology and uses a sensor clipped to your earlobe that detects your heart rate. HeartMath Institute, the company behind the emWave and other great devices and programs, has done extensive research on gratitude and achieving a state of coherence through heart-centered breathing and feelings of appreciation and acceptance. It’s definitely worth a look if this is something that interests you.
I should also mention that there are definitely things you can do to cultivate more gratitude that don’t cost any money. Calling someone that you care about, but haven’t spoken with in a while, can really impact their life and yours. Telling them how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate having them in your life will really mean a lot to them, and the effect will be strong and lasting on you as well. Make it a habit to express your appreciation to loved ones regularly and your relationships will be stronger than ever. If you want to take this to the next level, write someone a letter telling them about the positive impact they have had on your life, deliver it to them in person, and read it to them if possible.
Also, say thank you more often, even to people who wouldn’t be expecting it. A little bit of kindness and appreciation can go a long way, and the positivity will often spread and come back to you. Like I mentioned above, when thinking of the past, present, or future, keep your outlook positive and be grateful for what you had, what you have, and what is to come. Furthermore, you can have your own free meditation practice and keep a journal without using the resources I mentioned above, but you will need to have more discipline to follow through on these without the guidance and reminders built in to those tools.
Clearly, the physical and psychological benefits achieved from regularly practicing gratitude are yours for the taking, and anyone who wants to optimize their health and happiness would be missing out by not doing so. I have also found that I can be thankful for all I have and still be an ambitious and purpose-driven person. What’s important is to not let material possessions or the achievement of some superfluous goal be the end-all-be-all. I choose to constantly strive to be a better version of myself every day and to inspire others to be their best. Setting and achieving goals is extremely important when striving towards a vision; however, neither happiness nor gratitude should be delayed until these milestones are reached and things are acquired. We already have all that we need to be happy and plenty to give thanks for.
It would only be appropriate to end this by saying thank you so much for reading this article and visiting AlphaNerd - I am truly grateful you are here. If you are a returning reader, then words can’t express how much I appreciate you reading what I’m sharing and I hope it has added value to your life in some way. If you have a couple minutes, help me make the content on AlphaNerd even more useful to you by filling out a few questions, allowing me to get a better understanding of who you are, what you enjoy here, and what you would like to see more of. (Click here for the survey) If you really want to make my heart burst with joy and overflow with gratitude, sharing this site and articles to people you think would appreciate them is always the best gesture you can make. Thank you and happy thanksgiving 24/7/365!