Written by Sara Healy and featured in our CORE Ireland Magazine, Summer Edition.
In today’s society, there is a strong emphasis on individualism and personal success and less emphasis on gratitude. We are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we need to do more, achieve more, and be more in order to be happy and successful. This can lead to a sense of constant pressure and anxiety as we feel like we are never doing enough.
Gratitude can be a powerful antidote to this self-centred mindset. By focusing on the good things in our lives and appreciating what we have already achieved, we can give ourselves a break from the relentless pursuit of more. Gratitude allows us to acknowledge our accomplishments and give ourselves credit for what we have done, rather than always striving for the next goal.
What’s more, gratitude helps us cultivate a sense of self-love and compassion. When we practice gratitude, we are essentially saying to ourselves that we are worthy of good things and that we deserve to be happy. This can be a much-needed respite from the negative self-talk and self-criticism that can often plague us in today’s world.
What does research tell us about Gratitude?
Research has shown that gratitude is not just a feel-good emotion; it has a measurable impact on our brains and our ability to learn and make decisions. Specifically, studies have found that people who regularly practice gratitude have more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is involved in decision-making, social cognition, and emotion regulation.
This increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex has been linked to a range of benefits, including improved mental health, better relationships, and increased resilience in the face of stress and adversity. In addition, researchers have found that this increased brain activity can persist for up to a month after individuals engage in gratitude practices, suggesting that the effects of gratitude can have long-lasting benefits.
But how exactly does gratitude impact our brains? One theory is that it helps to regulate our emotions and reduce stress. This in turn improves our cognitive function and decision-making abilities. Another possibility is that gratitude enhances our social connections and increases feelings of empathy and compassion. This can also have positive effects on our brains and our overall well-being.
Given what we understand about the profound effects of gratitude, it naturally follows to ask, “How can we actively cultivate gratitude in our everyday lives?”. Here are several practical tips to help initiate this process.
Where do I start?
- Start a gratitude journal:
Make a habit of recording what you are grateful for. You can use either with old-fashioned pen and paper or through one of the available apps to do this. When you are writing, you utilise different parts of your brain and access memories and emotions from different perspectives. You will also be able to look back at your entries and find positivity through your own words.
- Practice gratitude on people:
A card, a letter, or a thank you note, makes the process of thanking others more meaningful. Sometimes, we give our thanks without really giving them much thought. This especially happens in instances where they are just part of a commonplace social interaction. Change that, and if you are face-to-face, use conscious non-verbal communication like a smile or eye contact. It can be with people you know or with people you don’t. The effects on you and your brain are long-lasting, especially in established relationships.
- Practice throughout the day:
- Set reminders that trigger gratitude from the very start of your day. It can be something as simple as the lock screen of your phone showing the photo of someone you love.
- Before leaving the house, think about how happy you are to get out into the world. And if you are stuck in a job you don’t like, look to other areas of your life for gratitude.
- The religious tradition of saying grace before a meal is among the oldest forms of gratitude. We are in the fortunate position to choose what we eat. So, when you stop for lunch or dinner, be grateful for this. Even if you feel like actually saying grace might not be your cup of tea.
- Give yourself a good look-over before starting a workout. Tap into your inner strength through a self-body scan. Aknowledge and thank each part of your body for supporting you in whichever activity you are about to enter.
- Enjoy the moment you get into your comfortable bed, and remember that gratitude is a choice and an empowering one. If you choose gratitude over resentment, your body, your brain, your family, and everything else will benefit from it.
Incorporating this practice into our lives can have a profound impact on our well-being and overall mindset. By focusing on the good things in our lives, we can alleviate some of the pressure and anxiety that comes with constantly striving for more. Gratitude helps us cultivate self-love and compassion, and studies have shown that it has measurable effects on our brains and decision-making abilities. By starting a gratitude journal, practising gratitude with others, and incorporating gratitude into our daily routines, we can actively cultivate this positive emotion and reap the benefits it has to offer.
Remember, gratitude is a choice, and by choosing to practice it regularly, we can improve not only our own lives but the lives of those around us as well.