Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.
Okay, we’ve long survived Halloween and Thanksgiving Day is nearly here. Folks all over the US are pulling out the good china, dusting off Granma’s strong bean casserole recipe, and checking out the TV football schedule to make sure that dinner coincides with half-time. And at the end of the day, we’ll sit back with overly-full bellies and plan out the next day’s Black Friday shopping expedition.
Hey! What happened to the thanksgiving part? The part where we stop and express gratitude for all that we have, the people in our lives and the path we’ve journeyed so far?
Sadly, many folks not only don’t experience much thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day, they’ve lost sight of gratitude during all the other 364 days of the year as well. Yet studies show that gratitude is one of the healthiest “ingredients” you can add to your life!
Robert A. Emmons of UC Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami have conducted interesting research on gratitude for many years now. Some of their findings include:
In adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude practice produced higher energy, more positive moods, a greater sense of connectedness to others, more optimism, and better quality sleep than the control group.
College student subjects who kept on-going gratitude lists made more progress toward important personal, academic and health-related goals compared to subjects who did not.
Participants who kept weekly gratitude journals exercised more regularly, had fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic than participants who wrote about hassles or neutral life events in their journals.
How can such a simple thing as being grateful have such amazing positive effects?
One explanation has to do with our focus and how our brains work. You’ve undoubtedly heard that you get more of what you focus on. But why is that so?
Every second, our senses pick up over 2,000,000 bits of information. Our brains then have to filter that 2,000,000 bits down to a manageable 126 bits. How? By deleting bits, and generalizing (and distorting) the input. The brain uses our beliefs and expectations, and what we’ve been focusing on to determine what to delete and what to save. Within nano-seconds, our brain organizes that saved data and stores it, draws conclusions and tells our bodies how to react, and formulates lessons and learnings.
So, say you’ve been thinking about buying a new SUV or dying your hair a different color. Suddenly, what do you notice? SUV’s all over the place! Great and horrible dye jobs everywhere you turn!
What about when you focus on how rotten the economy is or the turmoil in the world? What headlines scream out at you?
Your dutiful brain seeks out what you seem to be seeking. Because you’re focused on what’s wrong, it won’t even bother to register the good news, positive ideas or opportunities that surround you.
But when we spend time feeling gratitude for the good in our lives, our brain takes notice. It sorts through the 2,000,000 bits of information it gets every second, ignores the bad and pulls out more “evidence” of good. The brain then instructs the body to respond accordingly and comes to conclusions about life that it stores away.
Gratitude, like anything is a choice and a habit we can develop. Like those studies, setting up a practice for 21 or 30 days is a good start. It can be as simple as listing 5 things you’re grateful for every morning and evening. It can be challenging yourself to express gratitude to at least one person every day. (By the way, research showed that gratitude for the people in our lives seems to have the most immediate, beneficial impact on us.)
As Brian Tracy says, “Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.”
This Thanksgiving while you’re kicking back and digesting all that great food, rather than planning out your Black Friday shopping, consider planning out your own personal gratitude experiment.