Last week, we in America celebrated Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving is traditionally the day in which we give thanks and focus on gratitude, so I wanted to dive into the science behind why we should keep this focus on gratitude EVERY DAY, and some tips and tricks to help our brain out to stay in the attitude of gratitude all year long. Turns out gratitude is a game changer when it comes to upping your performance at work, and your overall experience of life.
As a stress physiologist, I’ve long been aware of the association between gratitude and reduced stress. But reducing stress with gratitude results in a slew of other benefits: First of all, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest and repair system, and the opposite of your sympathetic nervous system that is activated during your fight/flight/freeze stress response. Your parasympathetic nervous system helps you heal, and boosts your immune system. As an added bonus, when we are grateful, we tend to fall asleep more quickly, stay asleep longer, and have better sleep quality. Better sleep means we perform better during the day. These effects continue to compound one another as throughout the day, being grateful makes us more creative and more productive. One study even found that doctors who were put into a grateful state, by slipping them an unexpected piece of candy, were more accurate in their diagnoses than a control group.
Gratitude is a way of shifting our brain’s attention from problems to possibility. When we are focused on the solutions, we get a hit of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin – hormones and neurotransmitters that make us feel good, expand our creativity and are more likely to edge us towards an actual solution.
The opposite of all of this is of course, also true. When we stay locked into our stressed out states with our sympathetic nervous system roaring, we don’t sleep as well, are less productive, and are overall significantly less physically and mentally healthy.
So what can we do to make sure we stay in a space of gratitude year-round? I’m going to share a few of my favorite methods for practicing gratitude!
- The gratitude jar. Put a large jar or bowl in a prominent spot in your home. Every day, make it a habit to jot down one thing you’re grateful for that day and add the musing to the jar. Then create a tradition around reading all your moments of gratitude over the course of a year at the New Year, or whenever you might need a little perspective or pick me up.
- Give back. Find a way to donate your time or other resources to those in need. When we give back, we are actually doing just as much for ourselves, by significantly increasing our gratitude and reducing our upward comparison.
- Hand-write a heartfelt thank you letter. In a 2007 study, participants who wrote letters of gratitude to those people who inspired them demonstrated enhanced levels of life satisfaction and happiness, as well as decreased symptoms of depression
I’d love to hear from you how you’re incorporating gratitude into your own life. What are some of your favorite ways?
Until next time…live more, fear(less).