Gratitude: the Key to a Life of Contentment
Now, is the perfect time to reflect on gratitude. During this holiday season people are inspired to help others, focus on the things they are grateful for, and contemplate on their blessings.
There are many studies that demonstrate the mental and physical benefits on one’s well-being by practicing gratitude. Studies have shown the following seven key benefits of gratitude:
improves physical health – experience fewer aches and pains
reduces stress and other toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, frustration, and regret
increases determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy
Gratitude changes the brain. Although it may take a little time to begin noticing the changes, you will benefit by developing a practice of gratitude. Some gratitude practices have immediate effects.
According to an article on positivepsychology.com, when we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
Another study showed that showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making.
By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.
There are a number of ways to develop a daily gratitude practice. Below are a few simple ways to get started, according to an article on mindful.org.
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal. Establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. Recalling moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life gives you the potential to interweave a sustainable theme of gratefulness into your life.
2. Meditate. Make time to find a quiet place, get into a comfortable position relaxing the body, and focus for a few moments on your breath – breathe in for 5 seconds, hold, breathe out for 5 seconds; then focus your attention on things, people, opportunities, etc. that you are thankful for.
3. Share Your Gratitude with Others. Research has found that expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships. So, the next time your partner, friend, or family member does something you appreciate, be sure to let them know.
4. Make a Vow to Practice Gratitude. Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed. Therefore, write your own gratitude vow, which could be as simple as “I vow to count my blessings each day,” and post it somewhere where you will be reminded of it every day.
5. Pick one interaction a day. When your instinct to say “thanks” arises, stop for a moment and take note. Can you name what you feel grateful for, even beyond the gesture that’s been extended? Then say thank you. (look them in the eyes and mean it)
I have found keeping a daily gratitude journal, by taking a few minutes each morning to write down all that I am grateful for, that this morning practice has changed my outlook for the entire day – no matter how crazy it gets. I am realizing that genuine gratitude practices have led me to experience an abundance of peace and joy.
Furthermore, I am convinced that focusing on our gratitude fosters philanthropy—the love of humankind. Most leaders at nonprofits are “givers” spending their energy each day in helping others -this often leads to focusing solely on challenges and problems. Focusing only on problems drains energy and optimism. Instead focus each morning first on what you are grateful for and incorporate a practice of gratitude – I know from my own experience that a genuine gratitude practice will help “fill your cup”, and you will actually have more energy, empathy, and love to share. This will bring abundance to your life and your organization. Afterall, Philanthropy is love of humankind. Let’s spread it!
“Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey