Saying ‘thank you’ is so much more than good manners. Gratitude, when intentional, offers many physical and psychological benefits.
A daily gratitude practice can help you feel more connected, sleep better and cope with stress.
You can start a daily gratitude practice today by pairing your expression of appreciation with a current daily healthy practice, like taking a walk and getting fresh air.
The holiday season ushers in a magical time of connectedness and celebration. As we welcome the Thanksgiving season, let’s take a moment to appreciate how a gratitude practice can be a ray of light when holiday stress casts a shadow on our day.
The idea of a gratitude practice may feel foreign or forced to some of us, but the beauty of a gratitude practice is that it can be as unique as you. A gratitude practice doesn’t have to be rigid or lengthy, in fact, just a few seconds a day can help. In this article, we’ll discover how to cultivate a practice that feels comfortable with practical steps to help you get started with gratitude.
What is a Gratitude Practice?
At its foundation, a gratitude practice is an intentional act that is how you choose to show appreciation and thanks for something in your life. There are no set rules for gratitude, what matters is that it feels like it fits your lifestyle–not the other way around.
Start by pausing and saying something you are thankful for at that moment. Use whatever sense appeals to you, maybe it's the smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee or the way a soft blanket feels cozy and protective.
Gratitude is a way to bring you into the present moment. When you are expressing gratitude, you aren’t thinking about stressful situations or ruminating.
As you do this practice over time, you begin to change the neural pathways in your brain, strengthening the pathways that pull your thoughts away from stress and acknowledge positive things in your life. This is how we build mental resilience.
Gratitude is a concept with very real and concrete benefits for health and well-being. Here are a few reasons to begin a gratitude practice today.
Improved brain reaction to stress. In one study of women’s health practices, daily gratitude resulted in decreased activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that responds to threats and stress.
Better body response to stress. The group practicing gratitude also had measurable decreases in circulating markers of inflammation.
Decreased feelings of loneliness. Gratitude can subjectively increase feelings of connectedness and decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Better sleep. People who practice gratitude report better quality sleep and feeling less tired.
Gratitude doesn’t have to take long. It is one of the few things that we can do to improve well-being that can take less than a minute. A small expression of gratitude can have a big health impact.
The best way to begin a new practice is to simply take action. Outlined below are actionable ways to practice gratitude; you can start with one thing and try it today.
Schedule a time
We may not need a reminder to drink a glass of water when we are thirsty, but we may need a reminder to drink at least 8 glasses of water each day. Gratitude is no different.
In fact, one way to start a gratitude practice is to combine your practice with a habit that is already automatic in your day. For example, if you start the day with a cup of coffee, state what you are thankful for while the coffee is brewing.
Scientists examining how to build healthy habits suggest the ability to do something without thinking peaks when the action is brief. In other words, keep it simple. If you need a reminder, you can also set an alarm on your phone each day to keep yourself accountable.
Put It Into Words
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. The definition of the word gratitude can be your north star for what to say or write. For instance, use the words “I am thankful for” or “I appreciate” as your prompts.
One way to begin a gratitude practice is to take a moment to say what you are grateful for aloud. There is a benefit to thinking the words, but hearing yourself use the language of appreciation can help build confidence and ease with the experience.
One of the most common and effective tools in a gratitude practice is a written journal. People who do gratitude journaling for at least one month show an improved mood and outlook. Try keeping a notebook by your bed as a visual prompt to start or end your day with an expression of gratitude.
If you are a visual person, you can take a photo of something or someone for which you feel grateful. You can revisit these images or set one as your phone wallpaper whenever you need a reminder.
Share with Someone
Expand your gratitude practice outside of your personal life by expressing gratitude to others in your life at home or in the workplace. You might be surprised at what a big impact a few words of gratitude can have on a person.
Consistency is the secret sauce when forming any new habit. One long-term study suggests that if you can practice your (gratitude) behaviors at a consistent time and setting, then you will be more successful in forming a habit.
Furthermore, habit research indicates that habits form quickly at first, but then plateau. Though there isn’t a definite timeline for how long it takes to form a new habit, there is enough evidence to suggest that consistency over time contributes to greater success in maintaining new habits.
Embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving this holiday season by starting a gratitude practice. Starting small and expressing appreciation for the people and things in your life positively affects your health and well-being.
You already have everything you need to be successful. Start today by taking a moment to put your gratitude into words by recalling your prompt, “I am thankful for.” We are thankful you read this article and hope this marks the beginning of a fulfilling gratitude practice this holiday season.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your healthcare provider for more information.
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Shannan Bergtholdt is a Registered Dietitian with over 20 years of expereince and is highly adept at translating health information in engaging and effective ways. As a consultant, she has a diverse sales copywriting and freelance experience delivering practical and actionable nutrition information. You can find her at www.revolutionrd.com
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.