Ahh, the holidays, that magical season that lasts from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. The holidays are a time of festivities, family gatherings, honored traditions, and sharing of gifts and good cheer, culminating with toasts of goodwill to welcome in the New Year. While the joy and wonder of the season is sometimes temporarily lost to the hustle and bustle, taking a few moments to embrace gratitude can make the holidays and, eventually every day, more meaningful. As we look forward with optimism at the start of a new year, why not encourage an attitude of gratitude, an appreciation for all that is positive in our lives. Because, when it comes right down to it, every day has the potential to be a good day. If the sun is shining, even better.
Why gratitude? In its simplest form, gratitude is a state of thankfulness. Studies show that gratitude can positively affect our long-term health and long-lasting happiness, as well as raise levels of optimism, enthusiasm and energy. When practiced regularly, gratefulness decreases self-centeredness, keeps envy at bay, facilitates positive emotions, raises self-esteem and strengthens the quality of our relationships with family, friends and coworkers. It appears that focusing on gratitude creates a contagious zest for life that encourages positivity and motivates those around us to be more grateful, as well.
Like any other skill, cultivating an attitude of gratitude takes patience, practice and commitment. And like any other habit you’d like to improve upon or develop a new, changes begin with small steps. Carving just a few minutes out of a busy day to show appreciation to those we love and often take for granted, and being thankful for all that we have, can reap spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health benefits. Taking time each day to count our blessings rather than our burdens, can result in increased sleep quality, decreased blood pressure, improved mood, a more positive outlook and enhanced recovery from health-related quality of life events. In short, feeling grateful helps us to feel good about ourselves.
For that, we can thank our brains. Neuroscience tells us that expressions of gratitude activate brain regions associated with dopamine and serotonin, mood enhancing neurotransmitters. The brain recognizes and reinforces positive stimuli, making it more likely you will engage in this type of behavior again. As grateful thoughts and deeds continue, neural pathways are strengthened, ultimately changing neural structures and creating a permanent grateful, positive and more content nature within ourselves. Considered by some to be the healthiest of all human emotions, it is gratitude that drives happiness and joy.
Real joy lies in the small things that become big things when touched by gratitude. Perhaps, instead of expensive gifts, give the thoughtful gift of time. Giving of oneself with no expectations of receiving is the true meaning of generosity and unselfishness. If someone in your past made a difference in your life, give back by making a difference in someone else’s. Thank someone every day just for being a special part of your life. Perform acts of kindness. Help others. Share with those in need. Spread the love out into the universe and watch it come back to you. Cultivate gratitude and a fullness of heart and you will inspire others around you to do the same.
The Grateful Brain. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain
6 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude. https://psychcentral.com/blog/6-ways-to-cultivate-gratitude/
28 Benefits of Gratitude & Most Significant Research Findings. https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-gratitude-research-questions/
The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety and Grief. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/