The Unexpected Benefits of Gratitude
Whenever I think of the word “gratitude,” Thanksgiving automatically comes to mind. I picture families gathered around a sumptuous meal, expressing thanks for all the blessings in their lives.
But the benefits of gratitude are more than a one-and-done thing. Gratitude is the action of being thankful, and it’s something that can be practiced all year round. And when we practice showing gratitude often, the results can be pretty life-changing.
Here are just a few of the unexpected and awesome benefits that come from expressing gratitude on a regular basis.
Benefits of Gratitude
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, has some interesting insights on the subject. In one of his videos, Robert teaches that when we feel grateful, it can actually help us have a higher sense of self-worth. He believes that when we specifically feel gratitude for the people in our lives (think Mom and Dad, your first-grade teacher who taught you to read, your BFF who knows all your secrets and still likes you, and the list goes on), we begin to notice how they have been responsible for helping us to get where we are right now. This in turn helps us feel like we’re being watched over by others. Like human guardian angels.
And when we begin to recognize the positive contributions of others, it can transform the way we see ourselves, helping us have higher self-esteem.
Your Brain on Gratitude
For all the brainiacs in the house, did you know that when we express gratitude, there are actually physiological benefits involved?
When we feel thankful, it activates certain neural circuits in the brain, which prompts the increased production of serotonin and dopamine. These two neurotransmitters, which are responsible for feelings of happiness, then travel down neural pathways to the “bliss” center of the brain. This creates an overall feeling of contentment (insert warm and fuzzy feeling).
When we regularly feel content in life, we truly capture the full essence and beauty of every moment.
If Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates, Gratitude Certainly Helps
Forrest Gump compared life to a box of chocolates, but I compare it to a board game. Sometimes, we might feel as if our lives are like a board game—we understand the rules and have all the pieces set up exactly as we’d like. But then once in a while, life throws you a nasty roll of the dice. It can feel as if somebody suddenly grabbed the board and shook it in the air, scattering your carefully laid pieces and plans to the wind.
But practicing gratitude can help us to be more resilient. In psychology and neurology, resilience is a term that refers to the brain and body’s ability to bounce back from stressful life events, such as the loss of a job or death of a loved one. In fact, many studies show that people who are more grateful recover more quickly from times of stress or trauma. There is an old metaphor about resilience that applies here: resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane—they bend rather than break.
There are a number of reasons this may be the case; however, one in particular stands out—when expressed regularly, gratitude can give you a proper perspective from which to view negative life events you have no control over. And maybe it’s just feeling grateful for the tough lessons learned.
How Gratitude Changed Oprah’s Life
Oprah Winfrey (if you don’t know who she is, Google The Oprah Winfrey Show and prepare to be amazed) is an example of someone who practices gratitude on a daily basis. Oprah has been wildly successful in life, even being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2013. Yet despite her incredible successes and wealth, Oprah says that showing gratitude has been her most important accomplishment.
“Sixteen years ago, I started a gratitude journal, and I have to say, it was the single most important thing I’ve ever done,” she says in one of her recorded Oprah’s Lifeclass™episodes.
Every day, Oprah writes down five things she is grateful for. “You have to physically write them down, because there’s power in words,” she teaches. Even simple things like feeling gratitude for fresh flowers or someone holding open the door is powerful, in her opinion.
Oprah believes that if you practice gratitude daily, you’ll begin to consciously look for things to be grateful for from the moment you wake up in the morning. This will change your entire day. “You’ll feel more alive and receptive to the goodness that comes into your life.”
Ultimately, it can change your life.
“What I know for sure is that no matter what is going on in your life, if you concentrate on gratitude and what you have, you will always end up having more, even if it’s just two dollars. But if you focus on what you don’t have, you will never, ever, ever have enough,” she says.
Makin’ a List and Checkin’ It Twice
I decided to take a leaf out of Oprah’s book.
Here are the five things I jotted down on my gratitude list before writing this blog:
- I’m grateful to own a hair dryer. (Seriously, I spilled my breakfast shake down my sweater this morning and had to wash a big stain off with soap and water. The hair dryer worked in a quick pinch to dry the spot.)
- I’m grateful for my morning shake, even though it ended up on my sweater. It was a delicious and healthy fruit and veggie shake. And I’m grateful for my Ninja Blender to mix it in.
- I’m grateful for the fun audiobook series I’m currently listening to during my daily commutes. (If you like fantasy, check out the Infernal Devices series by author Cassandra Clare.)
- I’m grateful for the nice walk I went on through my neighborhood last night. It was a little crisp out, but the sun felt warm on my face and I enjoyed stepping on all the crunchy fall leaves on the sidewalk.
- I’m grateful for my job, which allows me to write meaningful and creative content.
Farewell to Thanksgiving Gratitude
There are countless ways that regularly showing gratitude can change our lives for the best. Despite the hard times, life can be rich and beautiful, and sometimes all it takes is a little gratitude to see just how special it truly is.
So instead of waiting around for Thanksgiving to feel thankful, grab yourself a notebook, my friend, and start making a list.
You’ll be grateful you did.