Last time, we discussed factors that contribute to happiness or our sense of wellbeing. This is especially important during this time of social distancing and increased isolation due to the Coronavirus. Many people are struggling with depression and anxiety during this uncertain time. As we discussed last time, there are some simple steps we can take to improve our mental health and wellbeing right now.
One of those simple steps is to practice gratitude. Your grandma was right. We do need to count our blessings.
Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, states that gratitude is recognizing the goodness and benefits we experience in the world and acknowledging that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We are the recipients of many gifts, big and small, from people around us and our higher power. These gifts help us achieve the goodness in our own lives.
Gratitude has powerful physical, mental and emotional benefits for those who take time to practice it. It is a powerful, proven strategy to increase happiness and life satisfaction. The benefits of practicing gratitude include physical benefits of lowered blood pressure, better sleep, and strengthening immunity. People who practice gratitude tend to exercise more and take better care of their health.
Gratitude has emotional benefits. Gratitude makes us more resilient. It promotes forgiveness and strengthens relationships. Gratitude boosts positive emotions such as optimism, enthusiasm, joy and happiness. Grateful people tend to be more connected to their community, more helpful, appreciative, compassionate and giving.
Gratitude is a choice. Often, it isn't easy and may feel unnatural and forced. Our natural tendency is to focus on and remember the negative. According to The Neuroscience of Happiness by Rick Hanson, “Our brains are Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive experiences.” The more we dwell on the positive, the more we overcome our natural tendency to only see the negative. The good news is, the more we practice gratitude, the easier it becomes.
The practice of gratitude is straightforward and uncomplicated. It is as simple as thinking about three to five things you are thankful for, sharing them with another person, or writing down in a gratitude journal. As surprising as it may seem, this daily practice can change your outlook on life and provide the benefits listed above. Learning to the habit of gratitude takes time and effort to become a natural part of your life. Eventually it will become automatic and happen without even thinking about it.
We have little control over our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond. Taking time to notice the good things—big and small—that happen in our everyday lives is a powerful tool to increase happiness, wellbeing and life satisfaction. Developing an attitude of gratitude is key to developing a more positive attitude and life satisfaction. So what are you grateful for today?
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.