The Power of Gratitude
Blog by Ashley Simpson, LCSW at Agape Therapy Institute
If you enter into a Google search “science behind gratitude” you will get 96,500,000 articles. Obviously, there is something to gratitude. What is gratitude? How is it beneficial? How can I build a gratitude practice?
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is the practice of feeling and acknowledging appreciation. It is focusing, intentionally, on the things that we have, instead of thinking of the things we do not have. It can be focusing on things in your life (your health, your home, your relationship, your kids, etc.), it can be broader things (the sunshine, a sweet smell in the air from spring flowers), or it can be concrete things (a phone call from a friend, a gift, words of encouragement from a coworker). It can be anything that you feel thankful for. Gratitude is noticing those feelings and what you are thankful for.
How is it beneficial?
There are studies about the impact of gratitude on the brain. Practicing gratitude has shown to increase levels of dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter), serotonin (the happiness neurotransmitter) and oxytocin (the love/cuddle neurotransmitter) in the brain. Gratitude stimulates areas of the brain that make us feel connected to the world and others, feel heard and seen, and feel happy. It can reduce physical pain, help with sleep, and reduce stress.
Practicing gratitude can literally change your frame of mind. The more you increase your practice of gratitude, the easier it will be to find things to be grateful for, even in tough situations, therefore increasing your resilience. This enables us to better see the “sunshine through the clouds” - that little silver lining that some may see, while others may not. We can see the positives and focus on those things, and that positive frame of mind can help alleviate these mental and emotional symptoms of depression.
How can I build a gratitude practice?
- Building Intention
Start noticing things that you feel grateful for. One practice idea is to notice three things from the day before that you feel grateful for. Start thinking about these in the morning when you wake up, when you lay down to go to sleep, when you’re in the shower, or while you are driving; whatever time works where you give yourself a few moments to really notice your thoughts.
Another form of gratitude practice is writing down the things you are grateful for. This builds your intention by giving yourself a goal and a place to write down your thoughts. An idea that can be effective is to leave the journal on your nightstand so it is there when you lay down to go to sleep, or when you wake up in the morning, and you can have your journaling time at the same time and place every day. One practice could be to write down those three things that you started noticing daily, and make that your practice for 21 days.
- Write a Gratitude Letter
Write a thank you letter to a friend, family member, coworker, etc. thanking them for something they have done or given to you.
Write a letter that you do not intend to send. This could be a letter to a loved one who has passed away, or a letter to someone you are not speaking to. Take some time to write to them about the things you are thankful for about them. Then do what you wish with the letter.
- Loving Kindness Meditation
There is a specific type of meditation called a “Loving Kindness Meditation.” In this scripted meditation we sit with loving, kind thoughts towards others and towards ourselves. This is a practice you can do while you are having a few quiet moments to yourself. There is a meditation hereand here that you could try.
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